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Celtics fall to Bucks 98-97

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Boston loses a rock fight turned nail biter in Milwaukee.

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

The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks kicked off their post-all-star-break slate on Thursday night at Fiserv Forum. The Bucks entered winners of 14 of their last 16 games, sitting atop the Eastern Conference, and would come out victorious, 98-97.

Both teams looked quite rusty coming off of the week long break, as they started a combined 5/18 from the field to go along with six turnovers. Kyrie Irving was 0/4 FG in his first five minutes back, but looked great on the defensive side of the ball. Boston’s defense was very solid from top to bottom in the early going, which eventually allowed them to push out to a 17-6 lead. The Bucks would respond with a 12-3 run of their own to immediately pull back into this one.

The Celtics led by two after one, thanks to seven forced turnovers. Boston only scored nine points off of those 7 however, which wasn’t great for their first quarter production. Al Horford looked solid early on, finishing the first quarter with 3 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals.

Horford continued to be all over the floor in the second quarter, leading the way with Jaylen Brown. The two of them were extremely solid on both sides of the ball. Brown finished the half with 10 points and 4 rebounds on 4/6 shooting. Horford had 10 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals in 17 first-half minutes. Irving, on the other hand, did not have a pretty opening half, finishing with 2 points on 1/10 FG over his first 18 minutes. The Celtics trailed 47-53 at the half.

The second half started much like the first: ugly and rusty. The two teams were a combined 3/22 from the floor in the initial six minutes of the third quarter. Amongst host of really poor sequences, including one that ended with Marcus Morris’ jersey being covered in a courtside fan’s beer, we had a Horford-to-Marcus Smart alley-oop, to awake every spectator from their slumber.

The energy picked up a bit towards the end of the third, but the scoring production continued to lay flat for both sides. Terry Rozier’s poor shot selection returned late in the frame, but a few quick buckets off of Milwaukee turnovers allowed the Celtics to stay in this one. Irving had 10 third-quarter points on 4/9 shooting.

Boston’s all-star point guard entered the fourth quarter with 10 minutes remaining and already 31 minutes played, raising the potential for his first 40-minute game of the season. He would ultimately record his season-high in minutes for a regulation game.

Despite their cold shooting night, the Celtics were able to string together a quick 6-0 to climb within two with five minutes remaining in the game. Jayson Tatum was a major reason why Boston was still in this game late, picking up a double-double with 3:30 left. He’d finish the night with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

With just under three minutes to go, Irving stepped up to the perimeter and knocked down a spot-up three to give the Celtics a one-point lead. The majority of this one wasn’t pretty for Irving, but he came up huge down the stretch for Boston, hitting and assisting on every big shot. Milwaukee was relentless however, answering every punch, thanks to players like Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

An Irving scoop shot cut Boston’s deficit to one with just over ten seconds to go. Rather than foul, the Celtics rolled the dice and played defense. Marcus Smart (of course) tied up Giannis to get a jump ball on the other end.

After a long debate regarding the jump ball and a potential shot clock violation, the Celtics were rewarded the ball with 3.5 seconds remaining, trailing by one. Milwaukee did a nice job of forcing Irving to his left on the final possession, resulting in him missing a tough, contested shot.

The Bucks have now won 15 of 17.