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Kemba Walker leads Celtics to 24-4 run, comeback victory over Bucks

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Bucks led by as many as 19 during an overwhelming first half. Then Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Kemba erupted in succession.

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Kemba Walker strangled any hope of a Bucks comeback during a 74-47 second-half explosion with back-to-back threes. Two points topped six though, in ceremonial fashion, when he hopped to the right elbow, pulled-up and buried his signature step-back from the elbow shortly after. With 32 points, he arrived in Boston — in front of Paul Pierce no less.

Boston overcame a 19-point deficit to knock off the Bucks, who treaded on the Celtics in the playoffs months earlier, 116-105.

The Celtics suffered the early plight of Bucks’ length. Walker scrambled to the corner to allow Daniel Theis to front Giannis. Milwaukee established a 10-7 lead as Philadelphia did, only shooting over Boston’s defenders rather than jamming it inside.

Giannis provided that, twirling by Theis for two inside. He scored by Gordon Hayward off the dribble for an uncontested slam inside.

Jayson Tatum hesitated early in the left wing against Brook Lopez, before the defense assembled, preparing for his drive. He asserted himself with a driving two soon after, Boston’s only make inside to Milwaukee’s 18 points through a quart . Rob Williams entered with a help-side block on Eric Bledsoe and screen to free Walker for three. Then momentum swung completely away from Boston.

The Bucks finished the first quarter ahead 34-19. George Hill tortured the Celtics’ perimeter defense, entering the paint to set up Pat Connaughton for three. Robin Lopez chipped in on Milwaukee’s 7-for-12 start from three. Hill slipped by Rob in the paint for a reverse layup, led Ersan Ilyasova for two behind the defense and grabbed his own miss for a put-back.

Giannis stepped off the bench after Milwaukee stretched an eight-point lead to 15. Grant William’ miss over the rim embodied what became a complacent Celtics attack at that point. Then Brad Wanamaker entered, crashing to the floor with a massive thump on his final-second drive attempt. Marcus Smart looked on in surprise, a fitting intro for the second.

After the Celtics tagged Giannis with an offensive foul, Wanamaker rose to contest Giannis’ takeoff. They collided and Wanamaker earned the foul. Brad Stevens, irate, urged the refs to reverse the call without a challenge. Smart pressed him to throw the flag. The refs looked for a flagrant, didn’t find one, but it woke Boston up.

Smart drilled a pair of threes from Kemba, forcing Mike Budenholzer to reach down to the Brook Lopez post-up hook over Daniel Theis to curb the run. Eric Bledsoe slashed, then hauled in Ilyasova’s air-ball that he originally set up.

Khris Middleton assumed the ball with the shot clock ticking away, his back turned, with only one second to turn, realize and shoot. The ball left his hand with 0.4 seconds, and swished. Milwaukee had an answer for everything.

The Bucks led by as many at 16 after Hill entered, grabbed an offensive rebound, and got to the top of the arc off the ball to set himself up for a three. Giannis got the crowd going by air-balling a pair of free throws, but laughed last before half when he turned his shoulder and fired the ball at the rim through Smart. Stevens challenged this time, and it turned a blocking foul into three shots.

The Celtics rushed out of halftime with pace and a variety of defensive looks. They stuck within 10 points, close enough for the run they’d make to score 38 points in the frame -- their most all season. Tatum and Hayward started the quarter trading threes, while Smart set Theis up for a layup.

The Bucks entered a 2-for-21 swoon into the fourth quarter that set the Celtics on a 24-4, taking their misses for runs in transition. Hayward started the Celtics’ run with a pull-up two and make at the rim. Smart caught an Ilyasova pass at mid-court and sprinted for a dunk, passed from the baseline to Tatum for a point-blank make. Kemba reached the rim in transition on the next set, hitting Theis for two.

Tatum’s pair of threes to cap the quarter, and take the lead, nearly sandwiched a steal at mid-court of his own. Walker’s penetrations opened the floor, while the Williams pairing and Semi Ojeleye spread the floor with size and physicality that kept Milwaukee out of the paint. Ojeleye and Tatum combined to stop Giannis at the rim from behind before Tatum exploded.

Hayward check in for Grant Williams to start the fourth after Kyle Korver beat him on a missed right-corner rotation. He led an even greater pace attack, as nobody outside Middleton’s flawless pull-ups hit from three in the second half. After Rob Williams kicked the ball to Smart and him for a three and mid-ranger, Hayward bounced a long rebound to Tatum for a ferocious slam.

Boston led by 11 slammed the door on Milwaukee’s face. Even a string of threes that touched nothing on the way down from Middleton fell short of getting the Bucks within two possessions.

Walker, who couldn’t find his shot among the giants early, converted a pair of game-sealing threes and 27 points. Smart and Antetokounmpo collided like warships in the final moments, though Boston’s pace built a 10-point lead for it to serve much consequence. Walker scored eight straight points to secure victory over the reigning one-seed.