Bucks roll through NBA playoffs as other stars Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday step up

MIAMI — From the moment Khris Middleton stepped into a four-point play at the 10:10 mark of the first quarter to give the Milwaukee Bucks a 6-2 lead over the Miami Heat, he was there to kill the vibe of 17,000 fans at American Airlines Arena.

The largest crowd in an NBA arena in over a year saw Middleton time and again suppress any urge they had to get out of their seat and cheer as the Bucks took a commanding 3-0 series lead with a 113-84 victory Thursday night.

While the Bucks never trailed after Middleton’s early four-point play and actually led quite comfortably throughout, any feeling of momentum built by the Heat was quelled by the 29-year-old wing.

"We got off to a little slow start shooting the ball, but we were able to settle in," Middleton said. "It's harder on the road. I think this is our first road game — skip last year — in two years. Just being in a different environment and not really playing on the road this year with fans as much as this, it gets rowdy. It took a little bit or us to settle in and get what we need to get done."

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The metronomic way Middleton answered whatever the Heat managed offensively suits the soft-spoken two-time All-Star, though the timely buckets further illustrated the cold bloodedness he displayed in hitting his Game 1 winner. He led the Bucks with 22 points while adding eight rebounds and five assists.

[email protected] joins @ZoraStephenson after the @Bucks’ Game 3 win: “Each game we gotta bring more pressure.” pic.twitter.com/NVhlwvJO2O

"Big shots," Jrue Holiday said. "He does it all the time and he’s been doing it for his career. To be able to kind of cut that out of the game where they’re about to make their run or they made their run and try to cut their momentum, Khris has been doing that, so we know who to go to."

And if Middleton was the steady beats per minute, Holiday made sure the rest of the Bucks did not inadvertently speed up or slow down.

"I think he can play at any pace and the group, that’s what we’ve been working on," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Holiday. "We need to continue to get better at being able to play at different speeds, different paces."

Holiday dished out 12 assists and scored 19 points and kept the Bucks playing evenly on both ends of the court, even as the Heat dialed up the pressure (forcing 15 Bucks turnovers when the starters were in) and making life difficult for Giannis Antetokounmpo (17 points, 17 rebounds) and Brook Lopez (13 points) inside.

Difficult, yes, but the steady play of Middleton and Holiday set a baseline the Heat just could not crack. — Jim Owczarski

State of the series: Bucks lead 3-0. Game 4 is Saturday in Miami (1:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

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