A quick glance at the Game 3 box score between the Celtics and Bucks, and you wouldn’t immediately assume Milwaukee won the matchup 123–116 to take a 2–1 series lead. Boston’s entire starting five was in double figures, Jayson Tatum quintupled his series scoring average, and the Celtics hit more threes and free throws than Milwaukee. But it’s the Bucks who came away with the pivotal win, thanks to a dominant, 32-point performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Deer closely resembled the only 60-win team in the NBA this season. Here’s how they took the lead in the series:
- Giannis had his best game of the second round Friday. He was a one-man, endless parade to the rim. Antetokounmpo forced the action and shot 22 free throws en route to his 32 points. Giannis attempted only one three-pointer and shot 75% from the field on his two-point field goals. Giannis was just unstoppable. And as good as Al Horford is defensively, his athleticism deficit against The Greek Freak started to show in Game 3, and the MVP candidate took advantage. No matter the defender, Giannis was hellbent on attacking the rim. The result was the platonic ideal of Milwaukee basketball—easy shots for Antetokounmpo in the paint, and open looks for its shooters on the outside. The Bucks shot over 50% from the field and over 40% from beyond the arc, and that’s nearly a foolproof formula for success. Giannis’s refusal to settle for anything less than a shot at the rim set the tone for the team, and the pace finally started to favor the Bucks as well. Boston simply couldn’t keep up.
- The Celtics received 20 points from Tatum, another 29 from Kyrie Irving and 10 off the bench from Gordon Hayward, and yet still looked disjointed offensively. Boston’s ball movement was subpar in Game 2, and the team’s lack of passing and energy resulted in too many difficult shots. The Celtics connected on only 46.3% of their two-pointers (compared to 58.7% for the Bucks). If you look at Boston’s and Milwaukee’s shot charts side-by-side, you’ll see that the Celtics rely so much more on the midrange than their opponent. In the playoffs, in particular, taking good midrange looks that the defense is willing to give up isn’t an automatic losing strategy. But Boston’s poor shot selection was more the result of too much one-on-one play, and Milwaukee absolutely deserves credit for playing very well on the defensive end. Irving is now shooting only 30% from the field over the last two games. He’s certainly still capable of finding his offense, but when he’s not getting to the line, the quality of his looks at the rim is concerning.
- Both teams tightened their rotations in Game 3. After a couple of blowouts, Friday’s contest was probably the closest thing to the series' truest form. Moving forward, the Bucks will certainly continue to leverage Giannis’s athleticism, which has overmatched pretty much everyone in the league this year. The Celtics can grumble about fouls all they want, but Boston will need to find a way to stack big bodies in the paint and move Antetokounmpo off his preferred spots without sending him to the line. Aron Baynes may need to play more than two minutes in Game 4, even if the Bucks trend a little smaller. As long as Giannis plays like he did for much of the regular season, however, Boston doesn’t have great options defensively. The Celtics can at least help themselves out on the offensive end by moving the ball with more verve and finding ways to get more looks in the paint. If that doesn’t happen, the Bucks could very well take full control of this series on Sunday.