The Celtics turn the tables on the Bucks in a 109-86 win to even their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series

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BOSTON – Boston wasn’t quite ready for the defensive intensity Milwaukee brought to TD Garden in Game 1, a lopsided loss that saw its starters head to the bench before the game ended, but the second-seeded Celtics did recognize areas they could improve on for Game 2. They did just that in a 109-86 victory over the Bucks on Tuesday night, evening their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series at 1-1.

After making the fewest two-point field goals in the 75-year history of the franchise in Game 1, Boston made 18 of its 37 attempts. After missing 32 of their franchise-record 50 three-point attempts, the Celtics went 20-for-43 from behind the arc. And, Bucks stars Giannis Antetokounmpo (11-for-27) and Jrue Holiday (7-for-20) struggled with their shots for the second straight game in scoring 28 and 19 points, respectively.

Celtics guard Jaylen Brown drives to the basket while Bucks center Brook Lopez defends Tuesday night.
Celtics guard Jaylen Brown drives to the basket while Bucks center Brook Lopez defends Tuesday night.

More than that, the Celtics prevented the duo from getting the rest of the team consistently involved offensively – and the Bucks from attempting a ton of threes. So while the Bucks halved a 26-point third-quarter deficit with 3:13 to go, they were forced into having to take difficult two-point baskets, and frankly ran out of time to complete such a comeback.

“I think they came out with intensity as we expected – but they did it at a high level,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “And they especially did it at a high level at the beginning of that game and it was tough to climb back into it from there.”

Before head coach Mike Budenholzer pulled the starters, down 107-86 with 1:52 left, the Bucks were just 3-for-16 from behind the three-point line and only 1-for-6 in the second half.

“If you’re down 25 anything is going to be hard and certainly it makes sense that threes would be helpful, but there were a few plays where it felt like we could almost get over the hump,” Budenholzer said. “A couple loose ball, blocked shot. You know, credit to them – they beat us pretty handily tonight. But there were a couple plays in late third quarter and in the fourth quarter, it felt like maybe we could’ve got it inside of 10 and just find a way but we didn’t. So, we’ll look at the film and see how we can be better going into Game 3.”

BOX SCORE: Celtics 109, Bucks 86

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Game 3 is set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Fiserv Forum.

“I think we’re pretty consistent emotionally for the most part,” Holiday said. “Especially everything we went through last year and being able to kind of read and carry through those situations. I think that even though this is a loss we also know that we’re going back home, we’re playing in front of our crowd. Emotionally I think we’re pretty good.”

Antetokounmpo also had nine rebounds and seven assists while Holiday also had seven assists. Connaughton and Bobby Portis scored 13 points each.

The Celtics were led by Jaylen Brown and his 30 points while Jayson Tatum added 29. Al Horford had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Robert Williams III added 10 points for Boston.

The Celtics were without defensive player of the year and starting point guard Marcus Smart, who suffered a right thigh bruise in Game 1. Derrick White started in his place, and he went 0-for-6 with five assists. With White moved into the starting lineup, Boston coach Ime Udoka went with just Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard off the bench, and the pair were effective.

Williams often defended Antetokounmpo straight up and also scored 21 points on 7-for- 14 shooting, including 6-for-9 from behind the three-point line. Pritchard added six points on 2 three-pointers.

Antetokounmpo began the second half the way he did the first by aggressively looking for his shot, and he continued that mindset throughout the third quarter – but despite his 18 points the Bucks couldn’t really mount a serious rally as there were few other options offensively. Boston took an 83-66 lead into the fourth quarter.

“It’s just being showing bodies, being active, being physical; that’s pretty much it,” Antetokounmpo said of the Celtics defense.

The Bucks were just 1-for-4 from behind the three-point line in the third, so while they trimmed a 26-point deficit to 16 in the heart of the quarter they couldn’t quickly make up the deficit. And while the Celtics went nearly five minutes without a field goal in that Bucks run, that wasn’t going to continue throughout. Sure enough Boston capitalized off a few late Milwaukee turnovers to prevent the lead from shrinking further.

After a dominant first half, Brown was 0-for-4 from the field while Tatum scored nine points on 4-of-8 shooting.

Holiday and Portis were the only other Bucks to score in the third quarter, netting four points apiece.

Behind 25 points from Brown and a 65% mark from behind the three-point line the Celtics took a 65-40 lead into the break over the Bucks. Boston moved the ball to beat Milwaukee’s defensive rotations to the open man, which led to an assist on 17 of the Celtics’ 23 field goals (59%).

On the other side, the Celtics defensive continued to fluster Antetokounmpo as he shot just 2-for-12 from the field for five points, including 0-for-3 from behind the three-point line. But the Celtics also cut off his outlets and he had just four assists. Holiday led the Bucks with 11 points, but he was just 4-for-11. The Bucks also only made two of their 8 three-pointers and allowed 15 Celtics points off nine turnovers.

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The Celtics took a heavy blow from the Bucks in Game 1 and repaid that favor as soon as the game tipped off, jumping out to a 18-3 lead in opening six minutes of the game. The Bucks were just 1-for-10 from the field in that stretch, including an 0-for-6 start from Antetokounmpo. Brown on the other hand, was red hot. After scoring 12 points in Game 1, he scored 17 in the first quarter on 6 of 7 shooting as the Celtics took a 32-21 lead after one.

“Jaylen Brown started the game on fire,” Budenholzer said. “He made some high degree of difficulty shots, got ’em out of the gate. They were all confident off that start from Jaylen Brown.”

Boston only extended the lead from there in the second quarter and Milwaukee never really threatened to make a run.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bucks fall to Celtics in Game 2 of NBA second-round playoff series