The Milwaukee Bucks organisation has gone through wide-sweeping changes since Giannis Antetokounmpo was drafted with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Multiple coaches have come and gone, new ownership has taken over, a new GM has moved in, the team plays in a new arena and the team even changed its colours.
Yet, throughout all the changes, two players have remained constant since the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
With that in mind, it feels fitting that the Bucks huge Game 6 win at home came on the back of monster performances from their star duo, in the franchise's last Game 6 win since the pair helped force a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2018 postseason.
"This is my eighth year in the NBA. Before I got in the NBA I played six years so I've played 14 years of basketball and eight years I've played with this guy, No. 22, Khris Middleton," Antetokounmpo said postgame.
"I know him, it's the most I've played with a teammate ever. I know when he's feeling good, I know when he's not feeling good and the one thing I've noticed with him is that when he started being vocal his mind in the game is extremely locked in. When he's making shots you know you've got to get him the ball. I just know how to play with him. He's a big time player and he makes this team great."
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks certainly went out of their way to get Middleton the ball in Game 6 and for good reason, with the 2-time All-Star pouring in a career postseason high 38 points on a tide 11-for-16 from the floor and 11-for-12 from the charity stripe.
Khris Middleton is the first player in NBA history with 30/10/5/5s and 5+ threes in a playoff game. pic.twitter.com/3cc2u5wOqw- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) June 18, 2021
Every time the Brooklyn Nets tried to arrest control of the momentum, it was Middleton who buried a critical jump shot or forced his way to the line.
"Those moments, he's going to make the right play," Antetokounmpo continued. "We know that when he feels good we've got to give him the ball. He's never scared of those moments. It's been an amazing eight years having him next to me, he's always ready and he's going to give the best he has."
In many respects, the on-court personality of the duo is the polar opposite. While Antetokounmpo bookmarks every post dunk with a mean mug, Middleton sinks a dagger in the heart of the opposition and calmy jogs away as if he's hitting shots in an empty gym in August.
If Middleton appears calm on the outside, it's because he is, in fact, he simply envisages those days in the empty gym in August during the biggest moments.
"I don't think about any type of pressure at all, it's a basketball game, it's as simple as that. I know it's lose and you go home but at the same time it's just basketball, we've got to have fun with it. Those moments are fun where you know the game is on the line. Fans don't really see the real talking trash in open gyms during the summer time but that's a lot where it starts. That's where I go to in my mind is thinking about summer workouts and having fun, now it's just in an official building with people watching."
With Game 6 now in the books, Middleton and Antetokounmpo get their chance to reverse the result from that Game 7 in 2018, and force their way into the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons.
To do so, they'll have to win on the road, something neither team has been able to do through six games.
"Confidence has always been high win or loss," Middleton said. "We haven't won on the road yet and we knew that was the only way we can win this series so now it's coming down to the last game."
If the Bucks are to win in Game 7 for just the third time in franchise history, it feels fitting that Middleton and Antetokounmpo are going to be the pair holding the keys to victory.
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