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Boston Celtics scrap into an exciting 113-107 win over Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1

The playoffs started with a rabble-rousing team defense-first win, led by Al Horford.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Al Horford led fiery a Boston Celtics team to an overtime Game 1 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, 113-107. Horford was terrific all game long, bullying Giannis Antetokounmpo and putting up 24 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. It was a customary stat-sheet stuffing game for the Celtics big man.

Boston survived in spite of a incredible catch-and-shoot make from Khris Middleton, (31 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) just as regular time expired to send the game to overtime. Middleton’s heroics underscored an exciting finish, when the Celtics thought Terry Rozier (23 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) had locked up the game with a knockdown three-pointer of his own leaving just 0.5 seconds left on the clock.

In extra time, the Celtics were on high defensive alert. Rozier stayed hot, recovering after a tough first half where he was 1 for 6 from behind the arc. By game’s end, Rozier was 4 of 9 from downtown. The guard paired up with some late-game heroics from Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum. Along with his 19 points, Tatum snagged monstrous rebounds on back-to-back defensive possessions in overtime for the Celtics, including one that resulted in Antetokounmpo’s sixth foul that sent him to the bench for the last few possessions of the game.

Game 1 was a scrappy mess from start to finish.

Boston walled off the paint in the first quarter, building up a 12-point advantage in the first frame. Milwaukee needed to body their way down the baseline or make tough turnaround shots to stay in the game, as the entire Celtics team gummed up passing lanes and created steals. Giannis Antetokounmpo faced particularly stiff defense from Al Horford early. The Celtics big man made scoring a chore for the Milwaukee standout.

Jayson Tatum helped lead Boston on a 15-0 run to close the quarter, scoring 8 of his 19 points before the three-minute mark in the first. The rash of scoring was powered by Celtics points off Bucks turnovers.

The second quarter belonged to the Bucks. Shane Larkin coughed up four turnovers early, three of which turned into points for the Bucks. Antetokounmpo started to bully his way back, playing through contact well. Malcom Brogdon, back just a pair of games after a long absence late in the regular season, emphasized Milwaukee’s scoring prowess in transition. He darted into the paint with the Celtics defense tailing him and whipped a pass to Middleton in the corner to push the Bucks lead to 41-33.

Marcus Morris, adding his now customary fire off the bench, spurred a Celtics recovery late in the first half. He had the TD Garden crowd on their feet after fighting through Jabari Parker for a big rebound with three minutes to go in the second quarter. The Celtics finished the half riding a nimble steal from Horford, who quickly tossed it ahead to Jaylen Brown on the wing. Brown found a cutting Rozier in transition, and Rozier finished the play with a nifty reverse layup. Milwaukee clung to a slim lead 47-44 at the half.

Both teams returned to the court with unrelenting intensity in the second half. As Antetokounmpo and Middleton continued to pour in points for the Bucks, the Celtics spread scoring duties around and continued their frenetic, league-leading defense. Horford was a bully on the block against Antetokounmpo, staying efficient from the foul line.

In the fourth quarter, Rozier and Tatum were finding their stride. Tatum hit a pretty turnaround step back jumper over the reigning rookie of the year, Brogdon, to open the scoring. Meanwhile, Eric Bledsoe quickly picked up a fifth foul. The strong Milwaukee point guard struggled all game long in foul trouble and was ineffective.

Jaylen Brown, Tatum, and Marcus Morris all joined Horford in the heroics by fourth quarter’s end. All Celtics starters plus Morris were in double figures in the second half. Morris added exciting play after exciting play, like catching his own miss and stuffing it back for jam.

The Celtics fought to keep the lead, but Milwaukee’s length kept them competitive down the stretch. Brogdon hit a clutch three to tie the game 96-96 with 11 seconds to go. That’s when Stevens called a time out and Rozier set himself for a career highlight with his stepback three as the clock ticked down to 0.5 left.

In overtime, Bledsoe fouled out first before Antetokounmpo joined him on the bench, and the Celtics scrapped to keep homecourt heading into Tuesday’s Game 2 matchup.

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