What Stood Out in Game 4's Win: Celtics' Character on Display as They Rally to Tie the Series
Al Horford delivered, perhaps, his best performance in a Celtics uniform and one of the best of his career. The 35-year-old veteran, playing in his 15th season, generated a playoff career-high 30 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, to help Boston tie this series at two.
And after Jayson Tatum struggled to the tune of ten points on 4/19 shooting in Game 3, the three-time All-Star matched Horford's 30-point performance in Game 4.
It was a win where the character and resiliency of the team were on display. Despite Robert Williams' absence, Jaylen Brown in foul trouble, and the Celtics not playing particularly well, they stayed within seven entering the final frame. Then came one of their best quarters of the series.
Now, for a deep dive into Boston's 116-108 win in Game 4.
Celtics Slow Out of the Gates
Grayson Allen opened the scoring with an aggressive drive from the left-wing, getting to the cup for two points at the rim.
At the 10:06 mark, Giannis Antetokounmpo elbowed Jaylen Brown in the face, inadvertently, but since he didn't swing his arm and Brown invaded his space, after review, the ruling on the floor of a defensive foul stood. Antetokounmpo went to the line and made both free throws to put the home team up 6-0.
Al Horford got Boston on the board with a floater from deep in the paint following a pick-and-roll with him and Smart. A couple of minutes later, Jayson Tatum put Brook Lopez on a poster with a thunderous jam in transition. That trimmed the Celtics' deficit to 8-4.
A little more than halfway through the frame, Jrue Holiday and Brown traded threes, bringing the score to 16-11 in favor of Milwaukee.
A couple of minutes later, after a poor decision from Grant Williams, trying to make a cross-court pass that got picked off by Holiday, there was no resistance on a drive from Allen. His layup extended the Bucks' advantage to 21-11, prompting Ime Udoka to take a timeout.
At the 1:57 mark, Smart came off a pair of screens from Horford and Daniel Theis and found Horford for an open three from the right-wing that cut Boston's deficit to 21-16.
With 46.6 seconds left, Tatum, trying to create from the mid-range, extended his arm, shoving George Hill, resulting in his second foul. Antetokounmpo then picked up an offensive foul as Smart flopped after the former league MVP banged into him a second time after catching the ball at the free-throw line.
Brown and Antetokounmpo then traded buckets, including a dunk by the latter after he drove baseline, putting Milwaukee up 25-18 at the end of one.
Celtics Respond in the Second Quarter, but Bucks Earn Halftime Lead
Derrick White kicked off the second-quarter scoring, stepping into an open pull-up jumper that pulled Boston within five, 25-20.
Antetokounmpo and Brown scored the game's next four points, and Grant Williams swished a three off the catch from the right-wing that made the score 29-27.
At the 7:58 mark, Tatum stepped into a three from above the break that tied the game at 31.
But Tatum followed that up with an ill-advised bounce pass as he came off a screen from Horford and tried to get the ball to him when he popped out for a three, passing up a shot, a problem that persisted in Game 3. Holiday snatched the pass and gave the ball up to Antetokounmpo for a dunk that gave the Bucks a 33-31 lead.
Fortunately for Boston, a couple possessions later, Horford cashed in on a three to regain the lead 34-33 with 6:41 left. That resulted in Mike Budenholzer taking a timeout to address his team's defensive miscues.
With 5:55 to go, the Celtics dialed up a well-designed set play. White set a backscreen for Brown, then picked for Tatum at the left-wing. Tatum swung the ball to Smart as White rolled, and Smart delivered a bounce pass to White for a layup. That put Boston ahead 36-33.
With 5:07 remaining, Antetokounmpo found George Hill for a three from the left corner, giving Milwaukee a 38-36 advantage.
At the 3:31 mark, Smart knocked down a three from the right-wing that put Boston ahead 41-40. Tatum then got to the free-throw line, where he capitalized on both shots at the charity stripe, putting the Celtics ahead 43-40.
With a little less than 1:30 left, it was Smart's turn to make an ill-advised pass, slowly throwing one across the court, telegraphing his intention to get the ball to Tatum. Pat Connaughton stepped in front of it and took off for a dunk that brought the Bucks within one, 43-42.
Connaughton then tied the game at 45, burying an open three from the left corner. After Wesley Matthews baited Brown into a foul late in the shot clock that got him three free throws, all of which he made, an up-fake by Grant Williams drew a foul on Antetokounmpo. Williams cashed in on both shots from the charity stripe, bringing the score to 48-47 Milwaukee at halftime.
Brown and Horford entered the break with a team-high 11 points. Tatum had nine on 3/8 shooting, including going 1/6 from beyond the arc. He also grabbed seven rebounds. Boston needs more from him in the second half, though.
As a team, the Celtics were shooting just 40 percent from the field and 6/21 (28.6 percent) from three. They generated 16 points in the paint, and free throws again played a crucial role in their production as they went 9/10 on those opportunities.
However, they committed seven turnovers, leading to 11 points for a Bucks team shooting just 35.3 percent from the field and 5/17 (29.4 percent) from long range. They also helped themselves out with 20 points in the paint and eight on second chances. Antetokounmpo paced the hosts with 15 points and 11 rebounds, which were game highs at the break.
Bucks Live at the Line in the Third Quarter, But the Celtics Stay Within Single Digits
At the 10:56 mark in the third frame, a turnover from Smart led to an emphatic transition dunk from Antetokounmpo. He then stared down Horford and had something to say to the Celtics' elder statesman, resulting in a pretty soft technical. Tatum made the free throw, making it a 52-49 game.
About 30 seconds later, Antetokounmpo hoisted another three to the dismay of Stan Van Gundy, and the miss led to a transition jam for Grant Williams that kept the Celtics within three, 54-51.
At the 8:27 mark, Horford drilled another shot from beyond the arc, making him 3/3 on threes. That cut Boston's deficit to 61-56.
Horford missed his next one, but after Tatum couldn't convert the tip-in, he retrieved and finished off the glass, pulling the visitors within five, 63-58.
Tatum followed that up with a three to make it a two-point game. That also gave him nine points in the quarter and 18 total.
At the 6:32 mark, after a missed layup by Tatum, White fouled Hill, the Celtics' fifth of the period, sending Hill to the free-throw line where he went 2/2 to extend Milwaukee's lead, 65-61. It also meant Boston had to play the rest of the frame with the Bucks in the bonus.
With 4:48 remaining, a skip pass from Smart to Williams netted the Celtics a three from the left corner that pulled the visitors within four, 69-65. But Antetokounmpo countered with a bucket at the rim, extending Milwaukee's advantage to 71-65.
Antetokounmpo then earned another trip to the free-throw line, where he missed both shots, but Daniel Theis failed to box out Brook Lopez, whose put-back gave the Bucks a 73-65 lead.
Less than a minute later, the former league MVP drove into the paint, jump stopped, and sank a one-handed hook shot from 15-feet out, putting the home team ahead 76-65 and forcing coach Udoka to take a timeout.
After the break, Brown buried a needed three from the right corner, but Holiday pushed the pace, attacking off the make and getting a left-handed layup that extended Milwaukee's lead to 78-68.
Brown then barreled his way to the rim for two points to pull Boston within eight. After a Holiday miss, Brown plowed into him at the other end. It initially got ruled a blocking foul, which coach Budenholzer challenged. That proved wise as the challenge was successful, flipping it from Holiday's fourth foul to Brown's fifth. That brought Payton Pritchard back into the game.
With 53 seconds left, White drilled a corner three that trimmed the Celtics' deficit to seven, 80-73.
The quarter closed with a missed three from Horford that would've given Boston some momentum entering the final frame.
Credit the Celtics, though; despite the Bucks living at the free-throw line, they only got outscored by six and went into the fourth quarter with the deficit in single digits.
With the Game on the line, the Celtics were at Their Best
Thirty seconds into the final frame, Smart drove, passed up an opportunity by the rim, but got the ball to Horford, who hit a 16-foot jumper, bringing Boston within five. Smart then buried a three to make it a two-point game.
And after a Holiday missed layup, Horford drove by Antetokounmpo and dunked on him, letting out a primal scream afterward. Antetokounmpo also picked up his third foul in the process. Horford also was given a dead ball technical for elbowing Antetokounmpo.
Holiday made the free throw following the technical, and Horford converted at the charity stripe, bringing the game to an 81-81 tie with 9:51 to play.
After a pair of free throws by Lopez, Smart and Tatum weren't on the same page as the former tried to get the latter the ball when he wasn't looking for the pass as he came off a pindown and curled into the paint. The turnover led to an alley-oop to Lopez that extended Milwaukee's advantage to 85-81.
After a turnover that started with terrific defense by Tatum against Antetokounmpo, White got a fast-break bucket at the rim to tie the game at 85.
Horford then gave Boston the lead with a three from the left-wing, putting the visitors ahead 88-85. It also gave Horford 24 points.
At the 6:29 mark, Connaughton drilled a three from above the break, giving the Bucks a 92-90 lead. Tatum responded with a tough finish in traffic to tie the game.
But after that, Antetokounmpo answered by euro-stepping to create separation from Horford, then threw up an underhanded layup as he fell to the floor. The shot went in, but the former league MVP missed the ensuing free throw, keeping Boston within two, 94-92.
Tatum then found Horford for a three that gave him a playoff career-high 27 points and put the Celtics ahead 95-94. After a Lopez miss, Horford then cashed in on a four-foot hook shot and got fouled. He made the following free throw turning it into a three-point play and giving Boston a 98-94 lead.
After Holiday found Lopez for two points at the rim, Tatum countered by attacking the basket, giving the Celtics a 100-96 advantage. The three-time All-Star then got another two points from deep in the paint, also drawing a foul on Hill. Tatum made the free throw, putting Boston on top 103-96 with 4:06 to play.
Smart then held his ground against Antetokounmpo, drawing a charge, Antetokounmpo's fourth foul. After that, Tatum buried a three over Hill from 27-feet out to extend the Celtics' lead to 106-96 with 3:33 to go. That prompted coach Budenholzer to take a timeout and put Allen back in the game.
Allen rewarded his coach's decision, making his first three of the game to pull Milwaukee within seven, 106-99, with 3:13 on the clock. But after a timeout from Ime Udoka, Tatum got a scoop shot to go down as he fell to the floor.
Wesley Matthews responded with a three, bringing the Bucks within six, 108-102. With 1:44 left, Smart took Holiday off the dribble and got two points at the rim, extending Boston's advantage to 110-102.
With 1:27 to play, Brown, attacking in transition, earned a trip to the free-throw line, where he made both foul shots, putting the Celtics ahead 112-102.
After a Milwaukee timeout, Holiday found Lopez for two more points at the rim, but Smart responded with a bucket from deep in the paint. Antetokounmpo countered for the Bucks, making a 114-106 score, favoring the visitors.
Milwaukee then sent White to the free-throw line, where he went 2/2, giving the Celtics a 116-106 lead with 43.2 seconds on the clock. That got coach Budenholzer to take a timeout and empty his bench.
Earning this win, on the road, against the defending champions required a team effort and the ability to respond when the Bucks went on the offensive. The character of this team was on full display in Monday's bounce-back, series-tying victory.
In the win, Horford and Tatum tied for a team-high 30 points. According to NBA.com, they became the first pair of Celtics teammates to score at least that many in a playoff game since Paul Pierce (38) and Ray Allen (32) did so against the Knicks in 2011.
Tatum also grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out five assists, only committed two turnovers, and shut down Antetokounmpo on multiple occasions in the fourth quarter.
As for Horford, 16 of those 30 points, a playoff career-high, came along with eight rebounds and three assists. He went 11/14 from the field and 5/7 from beyond the arc.
After the win, Smart said about Horford: "It was huge for us. Al's, man, we love Al. He's the best vet we've ever had. He's the best vet I've ever had."
Boston also got 18 points apiece from Smart and Brown. The former also distributed a team-high eight assists. And he played outstanding individual and team defense, holding Holiday to 16 points on 22 shots, taking turns guarding Antetokounmpo, and making plays on that end like drawing a charge from last year's Finals MVP in the fourth quarter.
After the game, Horford said of Smart: "He showed tonight why he was the Defensive Player of the Year. Just the job that he did. Guarding Giannis, guarding Jrue. For me, he was the game changer. He was unbelievable."
Brown gave the Celtics' offense a needed boost at times, but he also dealt with foul trouble, and when he got his fifth, it forced him to sit for a while before helping Boston close out the victory.
It's also worth highlighting White contributing 11 points and terrific defense off the bench. Offensively, White sought out his shot and let it fly without hesitation, much like in Game 3. His scoring came on 4/6 shooting.
As a team, the Celtics shot 50 percent from the field and 14/37 (37.8 percent) from beyond the arc. They also went 18/20 at the free-throw line, which went a long way for them in the first half and the final frame. Boston assisted on 25/42 field goals and produced 48 points in the paint and 16 on the fast break.
While holding the Bucks to 108 points, the Celtics limited them to connecting on only 41.5 percent of their shots from the field and 9/27 (33.3 percent) from three. That came despite Antetokounmpo scoring 34 points and Milwaukee generating 52 points in the paint because Boston did an outstanding job challenging shots and meeting the demands of another physical matchup. Expect each remaining game in this series to be a slugfest, just as the first four.
Game 5 between the Celtics and Bucks tips off Wednesday night at 7:00 ET. Inside The Celtics will have content related to the game coming out before, during, and after. And follow @BobbyKrivitsky on Twitter for updates and analysis from pregame to post.
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