By MyFM's Jake Archer - After taking Game 2 in dominant fashion, the Celtics had a commanding lead as they went to Milwaukee. The Bucks needed to wake up and there was really no better place for them to do that than at home in front of a raucous crowd. Going into the series, things looked pretty even and though I was picking the Celtics, it was pretty easy to tell that the Bucks would find a groove and take Game 3. That proved to be true in a big way.
Milwaukee attacked Boston right out of the gate and used their length and athleticism to make things extremely difficult on the C's. Not only were they shooting the ball well, but they were swarming and defense and out-hustling Boston at every turn. It's no wonder they built up a 27-12 lead after one quarter of play. Terry Rozier, who had handled the ball exceptionally well through the first two games, coughed up five turnovers with four of them coming in the first. He was outplayed by Eric Bledsoe, who he had exchanged words with leading up to the game.
The Bucks rhythmn threw Boston off and they could never quite get a handle on themselves. The passing lanes were closed for Boston and their offense appeared to have no clue what to do. It was just clear that one team was desperate and the other was sitting back. The Bucks stayed aggressive in the second and pushed their lead to 23 heading into the break. At one point, Boston went almost 11 minutes without a field goal. After the half, Boston couldn't get closer than 14 points down with about three minutes left in the third, and the Bucks cruised. They even sat their star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, for most of the fourth quarter. In the end, Milwaukee came away with a blowout 116-92 victory and finally had some momentum going their way.
Giannis scored 19 for the Bucks, but Khris Middleton was the star of the night. The 26-year-old forward continued his great series by leading all scorers with 23 points. He also grabbed eight rebounds, dished out seven assists and notched one steal and one block. Bledsoe, Jabari Parker and Thon Maker all were in double figures as well. For Boston, the best output came from Al Horford with 16 points. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Greg Monroe were the only others to score in double digits.
I had been wondering why Thon Maker and Matthew Dellavedova hadn't gotten much, or any run yet to this point in the series. When John Henson was held out of the lineup with a sore back, Maker got his chance and both he and Delly showed how they can help this team in the postseason. Maker had five of the twelve Milwaukee blocks and Delly was his usual annoying self on defense. They need both of these guys, and they got them to step up in a very important game. It was easy for the Bucks to be energetic all night long with their crowd roaring. Milwaukee had one of the best home court advantages in the league and it certainly showed.
They'd had into Game 4 with a new swagger and Boston on their heels. On Sunday afternoon, things continued moving in that direction. Boston stuck with their same starting five, who looked alright to begin the game. The Bucks were without Henson again but got Tyler Zeller in the lineup in his place. Malcolm Brogdon was starting over Tony Snell again. Things seemed relatively under control early, but once Boston went to their bench, it was all chaos again. The Celtics reserves couldn't stay with Milwaukee's and they ended the first down 24-17. A locked in Jabari Parker was proving to be a big x-factor for the Bucks and the team was shooting well again.
In the second, the Bucks continued to hold Boston down and pushed their lead out to 51-35 at the break. The C's offense was stagnant again and Jayson Tatum in particular looked lost. Opening the second half, Milwaukee's lead ballooned to 20 points. The game seemed lost for Boston and they could have easily packed it in. Instead, they battled back and showed why they've been so tough all year long no matter who is on the court. The team showed fight and started to limit the Bucks offense effectively. Despite the length deficiency, Boston had again outrebounded the Bucks. Finally, it was Tatum who buried a jumper to put Boston up 100-99 with 52 seconds left in the game.
Milwaukee was in shock, but they stayed in the moment and made plays to hold off what would have been a wild collapse. Malcolm Brogdon followed Tatum's jumper with a three-pointer in transistion to take the lead back. Al Horford went to the line on the next possession and knocked down two free throws to knot the game back up at 102. The Bucks had the ball with the chance to run the clock down and win it, but Malcolm Brogdon drove in and missed the layup. Of course, Giannis flew in with his crazy long arms and put the ball back for what would be the game-winner. Both teams were coming up with huge, clutch plays down the stretch. Trailing 104-102 with 5 seconds left, Boston called a timeout and drew up a play for one final shot. Should they take the three and go for it all to steal one on the road or should they play for overtime? I didn't care, let's just put the ball in the hoop. Instead, Marcus Morris took a contested, long fadeaway jumper and missed to end the game.
I didn't love the play call, but the Celtics insisted they got a look that they were comfortable with. It just didn't fall this time, and their rally fell a bit short. There aren't any moral victories in the playoffs, but this young Celtics team came close to getting one. They had dug deep and almost grabbed a game on the road in a tough place to play. The Bucks needed to respect them moving forward after pulling out a nail-biter like this. All they could do was move forward, tied at two games apiece, and focus on Game 5 back in Boston.
Jaylen Brown was superb for Boston with 34 points, eight rebounds, one assist and three steals. He scored 30 just once in the regular season but now has done it twice in this series. Brown was the first player age 21 years or younger to do that in a series since Derrick Rose in 2010. He and Jayson Tatum (21 points) combined to score 55 points, which is only one behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for most combined points in a playoff game by teammates under 22 years old. They were fearless in the second half and continued to make impressive shot after impressive shot with hands in their face. They found ways to score with this group alongside them, so just imagine how they will be next year with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward taking some of the pressure off. Just remember, they are a combined age of 41 (the same age as Brad Stevens).
The C's also got Horford, Morris and Rozier in double figures. The Bucks were led by Giannis with 27 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Middleton, Brogdon and Parker were the only others in double digit points. Milwaukee went with a shorter bench as Jason Terry, Shabazz Muhammad, Sterling Brown and Brandon Jennings all did not see the floor. They set a franchise record with 14 blocks in the game (5 coming from Maker) after recording 13 in Game 3.
After the game, everyone knew the officials had been questionable, but there were no excuses being made. Of course, the NBA loves to shoot themselves in the foot with their "Last Two Minute Report" and they did so again! According to the report, Jaylen Brown was fouled going to the basket late and it wasn't called. Giannis also committed two fouls that could have proved crucial and turned the game in Boston's favor. Not great!
Game 5 was back on the East Coast on Tuesday night and it would be pivotal in deciding who would win the series. Check back for that write-up in a couple of hours!