Bucks Top Celtics, Take 2-1 Lead in Series
BOSTON -- For two and a half quarters, we seemed destined to be headed to the first competitive game in this Eastern Conference semifinal.
But NBA MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks decided to remove any shred of drama and send what was once a vibrant TD Garden crowd to the exits early, feeling frustrated.
The Bucks used a 40-point third quarter and a dominant second half to propel them to a 123-116 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of their best-of-seven series. The final score doesn’t indicate how lopsided the game got. The Bucks led by double-digits for most of the fourth quarter, and by as many as 17.
Milwaukee now leads the series, 2-1, and regained home-court advantage after losing Game 1 at home.
Antetokounmpo finished with 32 points (8-for-13), 13 rebounds and eight assists. George Hill had 21 points off the bench and Khris Middleton had 20 points.
Boston got 29 points from Kyrie Irving, but he was just 8-for-22 from the floor. Forward Jayson Tatum had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
The Celtics were once again plagued by a brutal third quarter in which Milwaukee put up 40 points to take a 95-87 lead into the fourth. Antetokounmpo proved to be unguardable and made a living at the line in the frame. For the game, he was 16-for-22 at the charity stripe.
Some hometown fans will point to the refs, who rewarded Antetokounmpo with the star treatment on some questionable calls, but the Celtics have themselves to blame. After all, they shot 30-for-32 at the line and still lost.
Boston let an opportunity slip by not taking a comfortable advantage into the locker room at halftime. The Celtics had four players in double-figures in the first half, led by Irving’s 13. Tatum, who had just nine points combined in the first two games of the series in Milwaukee, finally found a rhythm offensively. Yet, Boston led just 56-55 at the halfway point as the Bucks hung around on the shoulders of Antetokounmpo and local hero Pat Connaughton, who is from Arlington and starred at St. John’s Prep. The Greek Freak scored 14 points on just five shot attempts and the 6-foot-4 Connaughton had 11 in 13 minutes off the bench.
The teams hoisted a combined 44 3-pointers in that first half. The C’s made 10 of 23 and the Bucks were just 7-for-21, which was another reason Boston should’ve been kicking itself at the break.
The Garden was more than ready for the Celtics first home game of this series. Black T-shirts were placed on every seat in the building. Energy was high and so were emotions as news came out this week that Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge suffered a mild heart attack Tuesday night in Milwaukee and is now recovering. Friday night also marked the first time the Celtics could honor the passing of legend John Havlicek at a home game since he died last week at the age of 79.
Boston jumped out to a 10-2 lead when Irving knocked down a triple with 9:48 remaining in the first quarter and the Garden was deafening. During the game’s first timeout, a touching video tribute to Havlicek was shown on the jumbotron, followed by a spotlight shown on Havlicek’s retired No. 17 hanging in the rafters.
It appeared as though the stage was set for this to be Boston’s night. But as they did all game long, the Bucks responded. They hit Boston with a 14-4 run to take a 16-14 lead, capped by a Connaughton 3-pointer to deflate the roaring crowd.
The second quarter was more of the same as the Celtics built a 12-point advantage (46-34) only to see Milwaukee battle all the way back and make it a one-point contest at the break.
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone.