BOSTON (AP) — When Giannis Antetokounmpo picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter of a tie game, the Boston Celtics sensed a chance to pull away.
Instead, Milwaukee took control.
Of the game, and the series.
Antetokounmpo watched the Bucks bench open a double-digit lead, then returned with a dominating fourth quarter to finish with 39 points and 16 rebounds as Milwaukee beat Boston 113-101 on Monday night to move one win from its first trip to the Eastern Conference finals since 2001.
“If we’re honest with you, when Giannis and Khris (Middleton) go to the bench, you’re concerned,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said after his reserves outscored Boston’s 32-7 in the game and turned a 59-all tie into a 78-68 lead. “But you have confidence that that group can play.”
George Hill scored 15 points — nine in the third quarter — and Pat Connaughton had nine points and 10 rebounds off the bench for Milwaukee, which outscored Boston’s bench 42-16 in Game 3. After sitting out the last 8:18 of the third quarter, Antetokounmpo scored 17 points with seven rebounds in the fourth to help the Bucks pull away.
“It’s always hard to take out Giannis; let’s start there. But at the end of the day, we are conscious of trying to keep him fresh,” Budenholzer said. “It’s hard to find the words (for) what he does for our team, both ends of the court. He’s special, but he’s very hungry. He wants more, and he’s playing that way.”
The Bucks have won three straight since losing the opener of the best-of-seven series at home and can eliminate the Celtics in Game 5 at home on Wednesday night. They have not reached the East finals since the ’01 team of Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson fell to Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo in seven games.
“Good players, when they have an opportunity like this, they don’t waste it,” Antetokounmpo said. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to do whatever it takes to help my team win.”
In what might be his last home game for the Celtics, Kyrie Irving scored 23 points with 10 assists. But he was 7 for 22 from the floor, including 1 for 7 from 3-point range.
“Who cares? I’m a basketball player,” said the six-time All-Star, who can become a free agent this summer. “I’m trying to do it all. For me, the 22 shots — I should have shot 30.”
After leading all scorers with 26 points in Boston’s Game 1 blowout, Irving has made 19 of 62 shots and just 4 of 20 from 3-point range. He left the court with a few seconds remaining on the clock; many in the crowd had already headed for the exits, but a lone fan shouted at Irving, “Don’t leave!”
“I know probably to the outside world we probably don’t stand much of a chance,” Celtics Center Al Horford, who scored 20. “We’re at a low point as a group, I guess that’s the reality. We’ll have to bring that fight to them on Wednesday.”
Boston beat Milwaukee in seven games in the first round last year and went on to lose to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in seven games in last year’s conference finals. They will have to win three straight — two of them on the road — to return.
“I know probably to the outside world we probably don’t stand much of a chance,” said Celtics Center Al Horford, who scored 20. “We’re at a low point as a group, I guess that’s the reality. We’ll have to bring that fight to them on Wednesday.”
Marcus Morris Sr. scored 18 with 14 rebounds, and Jayson Tatum had 17 points and 10 boards for Boston.
Boston led by as many as 11 points before Connaughton made a long 3 at the first-quarter buzzer to make it 30-22. With about five minutes left in the second, the Bucks scored eight straight points to tie it.
Boston led 67-65 before Milwaukee scored 13 of the next 14 points — seven of them by Hill, and all of them with Antetokounmpo on the bench — to open a double-digit lead.
“Yeah that was killer,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Their bench comes in, they’ve had no dropoff. Connaughton’s been excellent. George Hill’s been absolutely tremendous.”
Milwaukee has won four straight road playoff games. … Marcus Smart, who has been out since tearing a muscle in his side during the second-to-last game of the regular season, played 15 minutes and scored three points, making 1 of 7 attempts from 3-point range. … It was Antetokounmpo’s eighth career 30-point playoff game, tying Marques Johnson for second in franchise history.
Game 5 is Wednesday in Milwaukee.
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