Khris Middleton walked out of Fiserv Forum on Monday night with a bag of food in his right hand and the game ball under his left.
Same ear-to-ear smile he always has after a Milwaukee Bucks win.
No extra pep in his step.
If you hadn’t seen the box score, you wouldn’t know whether or not Middleton scored 15 or 50 points against the Washington Wizards. You’d assume it was just another efficient night at the office.
That’s just Middleton’s demeanor. Lucky for him, 17,000 plus fans and a bench full of teammates gleefully celebrated his 51-point 10-rebound stat line.
“Just a special special night from Khris Middleton,” head coach Mike Budenholzer said to open his post-game press conference. “51 (points) on 26 shots is impressive. And we kind of needed him. (The lead) got to eight at one point in the fourth quarter. Phenomenal effort by Khris and the group.”
Middleton started his career night by connecting on his first seven three pointers.
He finished the game shooting nearly 62 percent from the floor, 70 percent from three and a perfect 12-of-12 from the free throw line. Those percentages aren’t out of character whatsoever, either. Over his last ten games, Middleton is averaging 24.2 points on 57 percent shooting, 53 percent from three and 90 percent from the line.
The only time Middleton acted out of character was when he drove down the middle of the lane and threw down a thunderous dunk for his 50th and 51st points of the night.
“I was tired, I’m not going to lie,” he said about the dunk. “To score, to try and put up shots to be aggressive the whole game, that’s tough. But I was definitely trying to save a little bit of legs. Didn’t think I was going to get there, but somehow I willed myself to get a dunk.
“It was pretty cool to have that as my 50 piece.”
The home crowd, flooded with emotion, heavy hearts and Kobe Bryant jerseys, erupted to in celebration. Milwaukee’s fan section broke out their “two-time-all-star” chants.
“He got in a rhythm pretty early,” Budenholzer added on the performance. “It looked like every shot he was taking, I think he was 9-of-10 at half. Just coming off of his hand well. It had good pop and good bounce. I think everybody was feeding him, playing off of him and celebrating him.
“Such a good player. Such a good teammate. It’s great to see him have a night like this and have everyone enjoy it.”
Middleton secured the double-double stat line thanks to the awareness of Donte DiVincenzo. Instead of snatching a late game rebound for himself, DiVincenzo let Middleton secure it.
“I was going to take it, I was going to take it,” DiVincenzo said laughing. “But, I knew he had nine.”
Before the game, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks emphasized that Middleton was definitely an all-star player and received his vote for a spot on the roster. All-Star reserves are set to be announced on TNT this Thursday, Jan. 30.
“It definitely gives me confidence, knowing that coaches around the league appreciate what I do,” Middleton said.
He added that he doesn’t pay much attention to critics of his game. Or whether or not voters will elect him to represent the East in Chicago this February.
“I just think he’s underrated,” Budenholzer said adamantly. “He’s very nuanced and can sneak up on you and how he gets his baskets. I think the rest of the league is appreciating him more and more.
“I think people that understand the sport know how good he is. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter how he’s rated. As long as he’s with us that’s all we care about.”
Middleton said post-game that the entire league is playing with heavy hearts, grieving the loss of basketball legend Kobe Bryant. The Bucks and Wizards took part in tribute, posting an eight and twenty-four second violation to start the game.
“I definitely dedicate that game to him as a thank you for what he did for the game,” Middleton said.