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Celtics win third straight game, 96-89 over Bucks

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Boston tops .500 for the first time this season with victory

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

You know something? The kids are alright. But the vets are even better. And the Boston Celtics needed every bit of them to avoid a second loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in just over a week, as they came away with a 96-89 victory.

Kyrie Irving had things going early, as he scored 16 of his 24 points in the first half. Al Horford took up the mantle in the second half, as he scored 13 of his 27 points in the third quarter, including a buzzer beater to end the period. Overall, Horford hit 11-of-14 from the floor and 4-of-5 from behind the arc, while adding nine rebounds.

In what was a throwback night, as the Bucks played a “home” game at the Mecca for the first time since 1988, the Celtics put together a semi-throwback performance of their own. As Boston continues to adjust and tweak their approach to games without Gordon Hayward, they played a lot like the 2015 and 2016 Celtics. They uglied up the game and relied on the combination of defense and star plays to get the win.

Boston forced 16 Bucks turnovers and held Milwaukee to 45.5 percent from the floor. After destroying the Celtics in the previous meeting, Giannis Antetokounmpo was held in “check” with 28 points on 10-of-21 shooting. Boston relied on Horford as the primary defender on Antetokounmpo. Horford turned in his third consecutive strong defensive performance against a long, young opponent, following big efforts against Ben Simmons and Kristaps Porzingis.

Celtics youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum looked every bit of their 21 and 19 years of age respectively. Brown hit 2-of-10 from the floor for 8 points, while Tatum was silent for long stretches, finishing with 12 points on just six field goal attempts.

Fellow younger, rookie Semi Ojeleye turned in a big defensive effort on Antetokounmpo off the bench. Not much will show up in the stat sheet, but he made play after to play to make it difficult on the MVP candidate. In one stretch in the fourth quarter, when Horford was getting a breather, Ojeleye made three stops on one possession against Antetokounmpo. First Ojeleye just down a baseline drive, then he took a secondary drive to the middle. Then Antetokounmpo looked to go baseline again, but Ojeleye cut it off and contest a turnaround jumper without fouling. Nothing goes in the books, but those three plays helped Boston to a victory.

Aron Baynes went to the bench, as Daniel Theis drew the start, but turned in a nice effort with 12 points and seven rebounds. He also had several nice contests at the rim, even if Antetokounmpo tried to send him into early retirement in the first quarter. Baynes also did a solid job on Greg Monroe, who has had big games against Boston in the past, after Monroe got a couple of buckets in the fourth quarter.

Finally, after some shaky free throw shooting early this season, the Celtics hit 19-of-22 from the charity stripe.

The Celtics go over .500 for the first time at 3-2 with their third straight victory. Boston gets back at it on Saturday night at the Miami Heat.