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Eight vicious minutes spark Bucks’ 123-102 rout of Celtics in Game 2

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Giannis, Bledsoe and Middleton escape their struggles for a trio of 20-point performances. Celtics fall from within three points in the third into a turnover-laden 28-2 Bucks run that sparked garbage time early in the fourth.

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

Brad Stevens warned the Celtics. In a third-quarter huddle, he told them about the waterfall they veered close to falling off of — and eventually would. The Bucks collapsed the into the paint with three bodies repeatedly, cutting off drives as an outlet for the Celtics’ offense. Their presence, Stevens said, made the Celtics take odd shots.

Midway through the third quarter, Boston held strong through seven three-pointers from Khris Middleton. The Bucks only led by three, in spite of Kyrie Irving’s 4-for-18 performance. Milwaukee surged from a close game, to a 123-102 route through eight brief, back-breaking minutes.

Giannis became Giannis in short order, breaking through the front line that Middleton’s threes and Eric Bledsoe’s drives helped create. All three of MIlwaukee’s leading scorers dropped over 20 points, sparking a 26-2 run late in the third where Boston chucked poor shots and turned the ball over, while Milwaukee stormed to the paint repeatedly.

Middleton shot 60% from three against the Celtics last postseason. Before he found the corner, where he killed the Celtics once more in Game 2 for 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting, he nearly fell out of bounds on a drive to end the first quarter.

He found George Hill in the corner to his left, who set up Brook Lopez for a three-pointer to escape his Game 1-struggles from outside. Milwaukee’s role players, outside of Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe and Middleton, started 4-for-14 from three, but they generated a mass of looks that would later break Boston’s defensive back.

The Celtics led 30-25 after an 8-0 run. Irving started 0-for-7 from the field, and Al Horford picked up the scoring, shooting 6-for-10 with 15 points, and distributing with an assist to Gordon Hayward for a three late in the quarter. Then Bledsoe broke the wall, shaking his struggles from the opener with an acrobatic layup to cap the first. Middleton hit a trio of threes in the frame, and Milwaukees crowd rose in jubilation despite their team’s deficit.

Bledsoe’s energy poured into the second quarter. He held Terry Rozier off the ball, while the defense collapsed to force two straight stops on Jaylen Brown inside. Antetokounmpo blocked Jayson Tatum at the rim, and threw down a one-handed jam to shake his 0-for-3 start early in the second. Then his defense at the rim forced Irving’s seventh straight miss, a high-hanging, off-balance layup. When that ball bounced away that normally, improbably lands in the net, the Bucks’ defense appeared different.

Irving emerged from the mud in the post, turning and hitting a right baseline jumper to spark a 13-2 answer to Milwaukee’s 10-0 run. Horford drilled a three, while the Bucks’ supporting cast jacked 8-of-9 attempts off the back of the rim.

Then the normal Giannis returned. He turned Horford’s back toward him while he spun toward the rim for a floater. He throttled into the paint, dumped to Bledsoe, who found found Middleton in his red-hot corner for a three. Bledsoe and George Hill splashed back-to-back deep threes on the right wing before halftime. The Celtics only hung around down 59-55 thanks to two put-backs from Brown.

Bledsoe helped Giannis rip open the paint through penetration, hitting layups to open the third quarter that broke Boston’s back. Middleton spaced the floor with five first-half threes, and quickly splashed his sixth — again in the corner — from Bledsoe driving into the paint.

Nikola Mirotic stripped Horford at the top of the three-point line, drove the length of the court and put Horford on his back to finish a layup and boost the Bucks ahead 71-62. Bledsoe could’ve pushed the run further, open on the right wing, but saw Middleton — in the corner — to his right and handed him three number-seven.

The Celtics didn’t die immediately, but laid six feet under in the blink of an eye. Midway through the third, Marcus Morris outscored Giannis with 17 points after a three that stopped the run. Boston resorted to the odd shots that Stevens warned them about, against a crashing cast of Bucks at the rim. Irving and Tatum both threw passes into the crowd at the rim. Down 74-71, Morris hit a mid-ranger that marked the Celtics’ second-to-last make for the quarter with seven minutes remaining.

Antetokounmpo hit a spot-up three to push the lead to 10. Then he drove and kicked a pass to the left corner for an Ersan Ilyasova three. Brown turned the ball over to Giannis and he scored again. The Celtics turned it over three straight times, funneling a 12-0 run toward Milwaukee. Giannis dropped 29 points on 7-for-16 shooting in the win.

Bledsoe continued to hit Boston in the interior, for a breakout 7-for-12 shooting night with 21 points and five assists. Milwaukee stretched the run all the way to 28-2 in little more than an eight-minute stretch. Antetokounmpo matched his output from the previous two quarters, 13 points, with a 13-point burst to start the third quarter that the Bucks won 39-18.

Stevens spilled Robert Williams, Brad Wanamaker and the depths of the bench into the game early in the fourth quarter. The Celtics went from within three, to waving the white flag over eight faithful minutes. Antetokoumpo proved that the first six quarters of the series represented an abnormality.