Milwaukee managed to hold serve at home and stave off a calamitous fourth-quarter collapse by the outstretched fingers of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Bucks defeated the Celtics 104-102 at the Bradley Center on Sunday, thanks to Antetokounmpo’s game-winning tip-in with 5.1 seconds left. The lefty putback, which followed a missed runner by Malcolm Brogdon, evened the first-round series at two games apiece.
“It’s a heck of a play, a hustle play,” Bucks interim head coach Joe Prunty said. “A lot of times on defense you’ll talk about 50-50 balls. That’s one there. … This is no secret: [Antetokounmpo] works extremely hard and has a tremendous will to win.”
After winning Game 3 in decisive fashion, Milwaukee held Boston to just 35 points in the first half and built a 20-point third-quarter lead. But Jaylen Brown (34 points, 8 rebounds) and Jayson Tatum (21 points, three rebounds) chipped away down the stretch, and a contested jumper by Tatum finally gave Boston the lead in the game’s final minute.
Milwaukee didn’t fold, responding with a corner three from Brogdon and Antetokounmpo’s winner. On the decisive play, Antetokounmpo struggled to work free on a pick-and-roll with Eric Bledsoe, leading Brogdon to force a tough runner with the shot clock winding down.
Antetokounmpo scrapped for position with Tatum, quick-jumping for the tip as the ball came off the rim to the left. Boston’s Marcus Morris then missed a potential game-tying jumper over Khris Middleton at the buzzer.
“[Antetokounmpo] made a great tip-in,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He was battling for the ball and our guys were battling for the ball. That’s what great players do. I thought for the most part we did a decent job on him. Better than we have in any other game, and he still goes 12-20.”
Despite Boston’s best efforts, Antetokounmpo finished with a team-high 27 points, seven rebounds and five assists. He also threw down a thunderous poster dunk on Al Horford down the stretch.
“It comes back to trust,” Antetokounmpo said of his late-game highlights. “Teammates trust me to make those plays. I’ve been making those plays all year long. … One of the most important things we can carry on from this game is staying disciplined and trusting one another down the stretch.”
Middleton added 23 points and made several key defensive plays, including the final stop on Morris and forcing a turnover in transition that set up Brogdon’s three-pointer. Brogdon finished with 10 points and Jabari Parker chipped in 16 off the bench, delivering quality two-way contributions after publicly requesting more playing time before Game 3.
Boston had appeared in complete command of the series after it went up 2-0, but now must regain its footing when the series returns to TD Garden for Game 5 on Tuesday. Parker and Thon Maker, who blocked five shots, both gave the Bucks a boost off the bench. The Celtics’ bench, by contrast, managed just 15 combined points. Terry Rozier, who outplayed Eric Bledsoe in the first two games of the series, scored just 10 points on 12 shots, and shot 2-10 from beyond the arc.