BOSTON -- Milwaukee Bucks star Khris Middleton suffered a hyperextended left knee late in the third quarter of Milwaukee's 117-103 loss to the Celtics at TD Garden and did not return, but initial signs are that the injury won't cause him to be out for a lengthy period of time.
"We'll know more tomorrow, but I think there's some hope that it's not serious," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "But you've got to weigh it and give it time."
Middleton suffered the injury when he collided with teammate Rodney Hood as the two of them went after a defensive rebound late in the third quarter, and his leg buckled awkwardly. After he winced and stayed on the ground for a moment, Middleton got up and limped to the other end of the court for Milwaukee's ensuing offensive possession.
As soon as it was over, however, the Bucks committed a foul, and Middleton walked straight off the court and into the locker room.
That said, the Bucks felt optimistic Middleton's injury wouldn't be a long-term one. He was seen walking out of Milwaukee's locker room under his own power after the game, and Budenholzer's positive outlook was echoed by teammates Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
"Don't be hurt," Holiday said with a smile, when asked what his message to Middleton was postgame. "Better be back next game."
"He's positive [about it]," Holiday added. "But he never really shows a sign of weakness. He's always going to be a positive person."
Middleton, 30, is averaging 17.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists this season after winning both an NBA championship last season with the Bucks and then a gold medal with Team USA this past summer in the Tokyo Olympics.
"I didn't see the play," Antetokounmpo said. "I just saw him limping off the court. ... I saw him in the locker room after the game, and asked him if he was OK, and he said he was OK.
"Hopefully he's OK and hopefully he's ready to go on Wednesday [against Indiana]."
Milwaukee (18-11) came out flying Monday, taking a 30-21 lead after the first quarter over the Celtics, who were playing their first game back in Boston after an ugly 1-4 road trip. But the game completely flipped from there, with Boston (14-14) holding Milwaukee under 40% shooting for the rest of the game as the Celtics surged ahead by halftime and never looked back.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka said before the game he'd spent the prior two days drilling into his team the importance of defensive improvement after three rough losses to the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers and Phoenix Suns to end the road trip, and was very pleased with the results he saw from his team over the final three quarters of Monday night's game.
"We got back to who we were tonight," Udoka said.
He also was pleased with Boston's ball movement offensively, which allowed the Celtics to produce 31 assists on 43 made field goals, though it didn't hurt that Jayson Tatum turned into a human flame thrower, scoring 42 points on 16-for-25 shooting overall, including 7-for-13 from 3-point range.
For Milwaukee, however, the game was lost in the second quarter when, rather than extending their 9-point lead after one, the Bucks instead literally threw the game away, committing seven of their 14 turnovers on the night -- which turned into nine of Boston's 30 points in the period.
That gave the Celtics momentum heading into halftime, which they then carried over into the second half.
"Obviously we're coming back from a tough stretch," said Jaylen Brown, who scored 16 points after missing the prior five games, and 13 of the past 18, with hamstring issues. "Today was a big win. We've got, what, 15 out of 20 home games coming up? We've just got to take care of business and take it one game at a time and just get back to playing basketball the right way and keep moving in the right direction."
Milwaukee, on the other hand, heads back home waiting to find out how long it could be without Middleton after falling to 13-2 this season when he, Holiday and Antetokounmpo all play in the same game.
In positive injury news for the Bucks, however, guard Donte DiVincenzo could make his season debut as soon as Wednesday's game at Fiserv Forum against the Pacers after being out since getting hurt during Milwaukee's first-round series with the Miami Heat during last season's playoffs and undergoing ankle surgery.
"I'm happy for him," Antetokounmpo said. "His rehab was long, and it's been a long process, journey for him, and I'm happy he came back like way early from what they predicted. He was extremely focused. I'd see him every single day over at the practice facility how focused he was to improve his body, to improve his game, his mindset. I know he's hungry, and he wants to get back, and I'm happy for all the journey he did and to get to this point to play Wednesday."