1. No one should start making plans for the NBA Finals, but the Boston Celtics had a championship level win in Game 4 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Boston trailed by as many as 11 points late in the third quarter. Milwaukee looked like they had all the life and were poised to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Then, as they have for all of 2022, the Celtics dug deep and found their resilience once again.
Derrick White hit a three late in the third quarter that keyed a 10-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters and Boston was off and running.
In the final period alone, the numbers are staggering. The Celtics shot 16-of-19, including 11-of-13 in the paint against the vaunted Bucks interior defense. In all, Boston scored 43 points in the final frame, and turned the ball over only once.
Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart combined for 37 points on 15-of-17 shooting.
On the other side, Milwaukee looked exhausted. They shot 11-of-23 in the fourth quarter, but the Bucks two stars, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday, combined for just seven points on 3-of-12 from the floor.
After nearly pulling off a stunning upset in Game 3, the Celtics finished the job in Game 4. Now the series shifts back to Boston with a very different tone than it could have had.
2. As we get into the individual breakdowns, we have to start with Al Horford. He was the story of Game 4 and has been the story of the series so far. Against the Bucks, Horford has averaged 18.8 points on 54.9% shooting, including 50% from three, to go along with 11.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks. And his defense against Giannis Antetokounmpo has been outstanding as well.
Horford got started early in Game 4, as he knocked down a shot Ime Udoka said postgame is “one we can always get” against this Bucks defense:
Whether it be short shots, or threes, Boston knows they can get Horford going against Brook Lopez when Lopez is in drop coverage:
This was the play of the game and capped that 10-0 run over the third and fourth quarters:
It’s amazing to see Horford show so much emotion.
(Also, there’s no issue with giving Horford a technical foul for catching Giannis Antetokounmpo with a forearm after the dunk. But... keep it even and call it the same way when Antetokounmpo does the same thing multiple times per game. Seems fair, no?)
Underrated after that explosive play was Horford immediately getting himself composed to keep making big plays. This transition three was huge. Also, Lopez can’t keep up with Horford when Horford runs the floor like this:
After another three, which gave Boston the lead for good, Horford gave the Celtics a little distance with this jump-hook for the and-1:
A playoff career-high of 30 points, on 11-of-14 shooting, to go along with eight rebounds and three assists is just a monster effort from Boston’s indispensable veteran.
3. It shouldn’t get lost in Al Horford’s huge night that Jayson Tatum finally got it going. After scoring nine points on 3-of-8 shooting the first half, Tatum exploded for 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, six rebounds and five assists in the second half. This included 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Tatum made a couple of plays early. This loud finish is what Boston has been looking for from him when he drives:
This shot is also there for Tatum a lot. He snakes the pick-and-pop with Horford and knocks down the midrange jumper against the dropping Brook Lopez:
Tatum saved his best stuff for late in the game though. He scored 10 consecutive points in a minute-and-a-half stretch late in the fourth quarter. This drive got it started:
On the next trip, Tatum drew an and-1 with this strong finish:
Ime Udoka said that Boston targeted George Hill because they knew his tendencies. Tatum was relentless about it and basically finished off the Bucks with this pullup triple over Hill:
Tatum’s 30 points will get the headlines, but he also had 13 rebounds. His work on the boards allowed Boston to go small for most of the fourth quarter. If he can repeat that, the Celtics have found something really workable against this tough Milwaukee defense.
4. No less an authority than Al Horford said Marcus Smart’s work in this game shouldn’t go overlooked, so we won’t make that mistake here.
Smart was dominant defensively. In 44 possessions while guarding either Giannis Antetokounmpo or Jrue Holiday, Smart held the Bucks stars to six points on 2-of-7 shooting. That’s the DPOY doing work.
Smart was also pretty good on offense. He dropped eight assists, including this gorgeous find to Derrick White, when White slipped setting a screen for Jayson Tatum:
This block on Brook Lopez is well-time help from the DPOY:
And late in the game, Smart went to work in the post. He played bully ball to put the Bucks away on two late possessions. First, Smart went up and over Holiday for this finish:
Two plays later, Smart made easy work of this finish over Grayson Allen:
18 points, eight assists and terrific defense from The Loved and Trusted One.
5. This will be the only negative takeaway on a really positive night. Boston has to relax with the turnovers. Especially the bad, live-ball ones. Milwaukee is having a really hard time scoring in the halfcourt. But the Bucks are feasting in transition, mostly off turnovers.
This is a really bad pass from Grant Williams. And it was followed up by some terrible transition defense from the Celtics too:
Late in the first half, Smart gifted the Bucks two points by throwing a lazy pass from way too far away from his intended target:
Milwaukee had 13 fastbreak points, but scored well over 20 in transition. And they picked up 17 points off turnovers too. If Boston can keep the turnovers down, and they get back on defense, the Bucks will have a hard time cracking 100 points.
6. Back to the good stuff, and that includes Derrick White, who played outstanding basketball in the two games in Milwaukee. In Game 4, White finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and held the players he guarded to no made field goals.
This three, which came late in the third quarter, triggered Boston’s 10-0 run to bridge the third and fourth quarters. It’s also a good example of the Celtics pushing the ball and attacking before the Bucks can set their defense:
White also has a knack for when to leak out on offense. Great hit-ahead pass from Payton Pritchard here too:
7. Jaylen Brown put together a solid game, but unfortunately spent a lot of the game battling foul trouble. If Boston is going to unlock that smaller lineup more often, Brown will need to be on the floor. The good news? He was able to finish the game without fouling out and made some big plays in the fourth quarter to help the Celtics to the win.
8. We’ve mentioned it a few times here, but Boston is so much better off when they push pace. On this play, Payton Pritchard gets it up the floor quickly and immediately transitions into a pick-and-pop to find Al Horford for the three:
Sometimes that push can be a smart runout. Grant Williams only gives a partial contest here, because Boston wants Giannis Antetokounmpo to take this shot. But Williams smartly reads the Celtics have the boards covered and leaks out. Nice pass from Horford to get the easy dunk for Williams too:
9. With Rob Williams sidelined with knee soreness, Ime Udoka went to Daniel Theis for backup big minutes. That…didn’t go well. Theis really struggled on both ends of the floor. In 11 minutes, he took, and missed, five shots, mostly because the Bucks completely disregarded him as a threat.
While this hasn’t been Williams finest series, the Celtics need him. Theis is generally solid, but Williams’ athleticism, both vertically and with his quickness, can be a difference-maker.
Fortunately, Udoka said that Boston hopes to have Williams back in the lineup for Game 5. He called the knee soreness a “flare up” and said it wasn’t unexpected, given Williams is just six weeks out from surgery.
10. It’s a best-of-three series now. And two of those three are in Boston. That home cushion is nice, and it was earned by playing out the regular season, but the Celtics really need to get Game 5.
Expect TD Garden to be loud and out for blood. The Boston fans have a special attachment to this particular team and they’re going to want to give them a lift. And with games being played every other day now, the Celtics can use that energy from the home fans.
Game 5 is Wednesday, May 11 at 7:00 PM ET on TNT.