Giannis again leads Bucks past Celtics to grab 3-1 series lead

The Boston Celtics struggled in both Game 2 and Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Milwaukee Bucks, and have had no way to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Monday night at TD Garden was no different.

The Bucks, behind 17 fourth-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, pushed past Boston yet again to grab a 113-101 win in Game 4, taking a 3-1 series lead before Game 5 jumps back to Milwaukee.

“I think the whole group, the whole team played hard.” Antetokounmpo said. “The whole team was ready. Everybody stepped up. This is what [separates] the average team from a great team or a good team. You have opportunity to be up two games, and we were all ready. It was really good tonight.”

The Celtics came out hot, clearly looking ready to avenge their Game 3 loss in Boston on Friday. After taking a few minutes to settle in, they pushed ahead to an 11-point lead late in the first quarter, and looked confidently in control.

Milwaukee wasn’t out of it for long, though. The Bucks mounted a huge 18-6 run in the second quarter to retake the lead, and held Boston to just 19 points in the period — though the Celtics ended the half with a slight two-point lead.

While the third quarter has decided the first three games of the series — that’s when the Celtics stormed ahead in Game 1, and the Bucks in Game 2 and 3 — Monday was a close battle throughout the majority of the period. It wasn’t until the final 2:33 when the Bucks, sparked by a George Hill 3-pointer, sparked an 11-4 run to close out the quarter and grab an eight-point lead.

Though Boston made a slight move in the fourth, cutting the game to just five points midway through, it wasn’t enough. Antetokounmpo took off and dropped 17 points in the final quarter to fend off the Celtics, leading Milwaukee to the 12-point win.

Antetokounmpo, fresh off a 32-point game on Friday, finished with a double-double on Monday night with 39 points and 16 rebounds. He shot 15-of-22 from the field, and went to the free throw line 10 times. Hill added 15 points off the bench for the Bucks, and both Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton finished with 13 points.

“[Antetokounmpo] just doing everything,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Certainly don’t want to take him for granted. His teammates appreciate him, the coaches, myself. He’s special. But he’s very hungry. He wants more, and he’s playing that way.”

Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 23 points and 10 assists in the loss. Al Horford finished with 20 points, having shot 8-of-16 from the field, and Marcus Morris added 18 points. As a team, Boston shot just 37.8 percent from the field.

Game 5 of the series is scheduled for Wednesday night in Milwaukee. And after three straight wins, Antetokounmpo doesn’t think the Bucks need to change a thing before then.

“We just have to show up again at home, play hard, play together,” Antetokounmpo said. “Everything will take care of itself.”

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives past Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving during the first half of Game 3 of a second round NBA basketball playoff series in Boston, Friday, May 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 39 points to lead the Bucks past the Celtics in Game 4 on Monday night, taking a 3-1 series lead. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Marcus Smart returns to standing ovation

Boston guard Marcus Smart made his return to the court on Friday after missing the entirety of the postseason with a left oblique injury he sustained in their regular season finale.

Naturally, he received a warm welcome at TD Garden.

The 25-year-old backed it up, too, quickly hitting a 3-pointer just minutes later to push the Celtics’ early lead to eight in the first quarter.

Smart didn’t score again in the contest, however, finishing with three points, two assists and one rebound in 14 minutes. He shot 1-of-7 from the 3-point line.

It’s no easy task jumping back from an injury and making an impact right away — especially in the postseason.

When Antetokounmpo was asked about Smart’s impact after the game, well, his answer was priceless.

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