The first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals series between the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks were blowouts, with each team picking up a win in Milwaukee.
Through nearly three quarters in Boston on Friday night, however, it appeared as if the two teams would go down to the wire in Game 3. Yet it was a big push at the end of the third quarter for Milwaukee, which quickly carried over into the fourth, that sent the Bucks to a 123-116 victory at TD Garden, giving them a 2-1 series advantage and back-to-back wins.
“The defense and the togetherness tonight as we worked our way through the game ... just fabulous tonight,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said, via Fox Sports Wisconsin. “The spirit of the group is in a good place. Now the challenge is to keep it there and get ready for a few days from now.”
The Celtics used a 14-4 run to close out the first quarter to grab a slight five-point lead. While they quickly pushed the lead to 12, the Bucks rallied back before halftime and entered the locker room down by just one and held Boston to 10 points in the final 5:58 of the half.
Milwaukee came out of the break hot and dropped 40 points in the third quarter — the most scored by either team in a single quarter so far in this series — and shot an impressive 11 of 18 from the field. A pair of huge 3-pointers from Bucks guard George Hill sparked a 12-0 run late in the third quarter, too, though Boston cut the lead to single digits before the end of the period. While it allowed 31 points, Milwaukee’s defense held the Celtics without a field goal in the final 3:44 of the quarter.
The Bucks opened the fourth quarter on a quick 11-3 run to push their lead to 16, taking full control. Milwaukee then held off a late Boston push, in which it cut the lead to single digits in the final seconds, to grab the seven-point win.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with a near triple-double with 32 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. He shot 8 of 13 from the field, and all 32 of his points came from either the paint or the free throw line.
“I think he just stayed aggressive the whole game,” Budenholzer said, via Fox Sports Wisconsin. “I think he had the right mindset from the start to the end. He’s constantly putting pressure on the basket and I think making reads and decisions. He’s just such a force. He can get through cracks, and I think he’s going to finish or get to the free-throw line a lot if he keeps playing like this.”
Hill added 21 points off the bench, having shot 9 of 12 from the field, and Khris Middleton dropped 20 points in the win. As a team, the Bucks shot nearly 51 percent from the field.
Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 29 points. Jayson Tatum dropped 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Jaylen Brown finished with 18 points. All five starters scored at least 16 points for Boston, though they added just 16 total points off the bench — compared to a dominant 42 for Milwaukee.
Game 4 of the series is scheduled for Monday night in Boston, where the Celtics will have the opportunity to even the series before they head back to Milwaukee for Game 5.
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