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Khris Middleton sparks Bucks past Suns after 16-game absence

MILWAUKEE — Forward Khris Middleton, playing in his first game after a 16-game absence, found his rhythm right away, scoring 22 points as the Milwaukee Bucks — sans star Giannis Antetokounmpo — beat the Phoenix Suns 140-129 on Sunday.

Middleton, who hadn’t played since Feb. 16 because of a sprained ankle, also had seven assists in 25 minutes. He knocked down his first field goal attempt — a 3-pointer with 11:10 left in the first quarter — and rolled from there as the Bucks were able to win without Antetokounmpo, who was a late scratch before Sunday’s game with left hamstring soreness.

“For a guy that missed that many games to look that good was pretty impressive,” Bucks coach Doc Rivers said of Middleton after the game.

Middleton said he took extra time in the rehab process to make sure the swelling in his injured ankle went down, and that he was in shape to return.

“I been doing this a long time,” Middleton said after the game. “I know how to slow myself and not try to go too fast — or speed myself up. I know how to come in, play at my pace and change my pace. A lot of the work I was doing at rehab was just trying to make sure my wind was there, my conditioning was as good as it can be.”

Middleton’s campaign has been disjointed by injuries and an early-season minutes restriction, but he had averaged 14.8 points on 48.7% shooting — his highest field goal percentage since 2019-20 — entering Sunday’s game.

The Bucks are hoping Middleton can stay healthy and find his stride with 14 games remaining in the regular season.

Middleton’s presence helped generate shots for Bobby Portis, who scored a career-best 25 first-half points — the most in a half by any reserve in the NBA this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Portis finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds off the bench against the Suns.

Milwaukee star Damian Lillard added 31 points and 16 assists, becoming the first player in Bucks history with at least 30 points and 15 assists.

“[Middleton] looked great to me,” Lillard said. “He really took his time to make sure he was right. At our age, how long we’ve been in this league and how many miles we’ve got on our bodies, we know our bodies, when we should be coming back.

“Coming off injury, he made a great decision to wait all the way up until he felt right. … His game just looked sharp.”

Antetokounmpo told reporters Thursday that he felt sore during warmups before playing through the pain in a victory over Philadelphia.

He has a history of wanting to play through injuries, but Rivers urged Antetokounmpo to be cautious Sunday, noting that he’d have five days off before potentially playing Wednesday against the Boston Celtics. Eventually, Antetokounmpo agreed to rest the hamstring.

“We’re only concerned a little bit,” Rivers said after the game. “We were happy he decided to [sit out].”

This story originally appeared on ESPN

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