Last postseason, when Giannis Antetokounmpo was a worse free throw shooter than he showed this season, the Bucks prepared meticulously to follow his misses at the free throw line. Brook Lopez raised his arms and swung them toward the perimeter, his teammates ready to catch the kick-outs.
Antetokounmpo, after shooting over 70% at the line during the season, fell back to 60% through four games in this series. Lopez tipped one of his two consecutive misses late in Game 4 back in as part of Milwaukee’s run to go ahead by 10 late in the third quarter before they collapsed.
Two nights later, the Bucks mirrored that play, when Lopez stole three points in the second half tipping out an Antetokounmpo miss to Holiday, and Boston’s comeback. Ime Udoka called timeout after the Lopez follow early in the third quarter, calling out all of his forwards and big men.
He preempted the more decisive offensive rebound. Down one with seconds remaining — Bobby Portis broke through the Boston front court and did it again following Antetokounmpo’s second free throw miss. This time he put it back himself.
The Bucks came back trailing by 11 points with one minutes left in the third, Milwaukee stunned the Celtics with a 33-21 fourth quarter, Marcus Smart losing the ball on the final two plays with Boston hunting its own go-ahead basket.
The Celtics now travel to Milwaukee on Friday, shockingly on the brink of elimination.
Down 9-5 early, Horford sent Antetokounmpo away in isolation, who kicked out to Grayson Allen into an eventual travel. Giannis answered with a pull-up two over his head, attacking again on the next possession as Horford swung his arm down and popped the ball loose as Antetokounmpo prepared to pick up his dribble. The crowd erupted, and two plays later Grant Williams found Jaylen Brown cutting baseline for a slam to pull within one.
Horford swallowed up Giannis’ floater try out of timeout, diving into the paint on offense on the initial action before Marcus Smart drove on the second level and dumped off a pass to Horford at the rim. Both checked out, as Jrue Holiday paced Milwaukee’s lead, attacking Daniel Theis at the rim and missing a layup, which got followed by Bobby Portis, before hitting a short-range jumper.
Tatum, Smart and Theis got active in the lane out of timeout, setting up a pair of Smart jumper and pair of Theis finishes around the rim. Tatum snuck around Pat Connaughton’s back to grab a steal after Portis air-balled a three, sending Smart out in transition, who eyed Tatum for a pass before finishing himself. Derrick White checked in attacking the basket for two, landing a lob to Theis, but the Bucks stayed ahead by two points at the end of the first.
Horford seated himself in the lane to begin the second as Allen drove, standing right in the way on a drop-off pass to Giannis and sending Tatum the other way for two. He screened Tatum free for a pull-up three to cap seven straight Tatum points to open the frame that flipped Boston ahead, then the Celtics hardened for their most dominant defensive stretch all season.
Payton Pritchard surprisingly started it rotating and forcing a travel on Antetokounmpo and a big high five from Ime Udoka as he check out. A bigger Celtics lineup collapsed and stopped Allen and Lopez’ follow. White blocked Holiday at the rim, while Smart batted away one of his pass attempts off him to force a turnover. White found Theis for three above the break, and Brown ran back his own block on Holiday for two inside. He shot two free throws on the next trip down and ended an 11-0 run landing an alley-oop to Tatum ahead of him on the break.
The Celtics led by 13 points after eight straight stops, including four forced turnovers, Budenholzer subverting a deafening crowd and the momentum with a timeout. The Bucks settled down, Antetokounmpo lining up Horford twice for four straight points while the Celtics threw a pair of possessions away and settled for jumpers heading into halftime ahead only 54-47.
Both teams ran into defensive rebounding issues at the start of the third, Milwaukee’s offensive rebounds more by design with Lopez planted by the rim. Antetokounmpo missed a pair of free throws at the start of the quarter, Lopez ready to bat it out off the rim as he did all postseason and late in Game 4. Holiday caught the ball and buried a three, sending Udoka, who likely showed that on film, into a fit against all of his bigs and forwards into timeout.
The Bucks grabbed two more offensive rebounds on long bounces two plays later, setting Lopez up for a mid-range shot and making it a one-point game. Then, Brown drove downhill, missed, and put his own shot back. Tatum did the same. Milwaukee subbed out Lopez and went small, and Boston went on the attack.
Brown scored or assisted on 19 of the Celtics’ 24 shots to end the quarter. He pulled up above the break for three, created separation in the lane on a step-back two, while finding Smart for five straight and Theis on the back line. Boston led by nine in the waning seconds of the third, Brown caught up in the lane and forced into a jump ball. He batted it toward half court, Smart begging for the ball to his right, as Brown lined up Milwaukee’s defense, pulled up again and buried another three. Smart kept his hands outstretched past half court, going from no, to yes.
Antetokounmpo kept pace with seven straight points into the fourth, but Boston caught Milwaukee playing small and high again, White dumping off to Horford underneath for two before Tatum beat the Bucks up the court on the break on the next play to score through a foul. Williams drew a charge on Antetokounmpo, while Horford dislodged the ball from him on a later drive and forced a third foul on the Bucks star, each coming in the opening minutes of the final quarter. But Giannis persisted.
Connaughton and Holiday kept the Bucks within striking distance from deep. He shot five times in the post area, putting back a Holiday miss inside while Connaughton and Wes Matthews added two more threes. Portis scored at the free throw line following his shot, and the Bucks pulled within two points on an Antetokounmpo put back and Holiday pull-up in the lane. Antetokounmpo blocked Horford inside for good measure, the crowd nervously applauding with 4:00 remaining for the Celtics to hang on.
Tatum gave the Celtics some breathing room with a pull-up two, Smart draw a charge on Antetokounmpo, then, with 2:12 remaining in a four-point game Horford flew from the three-point line to dunk home Brown’s missed jumper.
Portis missed a long two in the corner the other way, Matthews swooped in for a rebound and hit Antetokounmpo. For three. Tie game.
Tatum drove and drew two free throws the other way, but Giannis came back and got fouled underneath. Udoka called timeout and prepared the team for the free throw miss that caught the Celtics earlier. Antetokounmpo inevitably missed the second, and Portis recovered it, his put-back spinning around several times before falling.