The Boston Celtics recovered from an 11-point lead in the second half, and ran away in the final few minutes to win 116-108 over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. All series are now tied at 2-2 and will be back in Boston for a pivotal 5 game Wednesday night.
In the second game in a row, the Celtics collapsed for a few minutes in the third quarter, and had to dig themselves out of a hole. But unlike Game 3, when their comeback was ultimately in vain, they got the job done. They outperformed the Bucks 43-28 in the fourth quarter, forever taking the lead over the Al Horford 3-pointer with 5:40 remaining.
This was fitting as Horford played one of the best games of his career. He finished with 30 points in 11 of 14 from the field, eight rebounds and three assists to go on with some stellar defense. Meanwhile, Jason Tatum rebounded from the grueling Match 3 to score 30 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
Giannis Antetokounmo led the way in defeating the Bucks, finishing with 34 points, 18 rebounds and five assists. Brooke Lopez scored 17 points, while Junior Holiday added 16 points, seven rebounds and nine assists.
In honor of the first 30-point playoff of his career, here are some key points Al Horford took away from the game:
1. Home and away Horford with Giannis
Early in the third quarter, Giannis came out on a semi-transition and inflicted a heavy blow on Al Horford. In the aftermath, Greek Freak had some words and affection for the veteran big man, and he was hit with a technical glitch for being mocked. On the replay, you can see Horford shaking his head and speaking, “Okay.” It turned out that he was planning revenge at that moment.
“I don’t really know what he said to me,” Horford said. “But the way he was looking at me and the way he was actually behaving wasn’t good with me. At that point, something changed with me.”
A quarter later, Horford got his chance. With less than 10 minutes of play in the fourth inning, Horford faked pumping at the 3-point streak and sprinted to the basket. When Giannis tried to recover, Horford dropped the hammer (and grabbed Giannis with his unintended falling arm, triggering his own technical technique). The usually reserved Horford let everything go, compliments and shouts with his teammates.
“Qualifying is emotional,” Horford said. “It’s intense. Tonight things weren’t going our way. It was tough out there at three there for a while. [Marcus] Smart kept talking in gatherings. Just keep telling us to stay with him. There’s definitely a lot of emotion at this point, and that’s what it was.”
2. Slams at Horford energizes teammates
Horford is a veteran of the Celtics, and is often spoken of as a calming presence – someone who’s been through it all and can help the team stay independent in tough moments. He did so at various points early in the game on Monday night. But he also played a much different role from an emotional point of view.
When Horford Giannis put on a poster, it wasn’t just something incredible to highlight; It was an emotional boost to a team that struggled to get nearly two full games in Milwaukee.
“Big play, obviously very emotional,” Horford said. I think for our group it made us go more. …there is not much to say. It is some kind of infection. Everyone feels it. I feel it motivates everyone. When any of us have any of this kind of plays. At this point, you just have to keep going.”
While the Celtics had already fought back – once the free throws were settled, that tied play at 81-81 – they now had the energy to close out the show. From that moment on, the Celtics outdid the Bucks 35-27, and it looked like the newer team.
“Big time play, big moment in a physical game,” said Marcus Smart. “We’ve been on the other end of those two times, so I was relieved to have it. We still have it. We’re not surprised, but we’re happy. We needed it. We felt it. Everyone did. The energy changed as soon as it happened from Al. They go.”
3. Horford, Celtics take advantage of Bucks’ defensive scheme
Much has been achieved about Bucks edge protection in this series, and for good reason. Perhaps some of the most intimidating internships in the league are Giannis Antetokounmue and Brook Lopez, and together they have capped the Celtics at 124 touchdown points in the entire series.
That’s impressive, but in order to keep the Celtics off the paint, the Bucks waived three points. In Game 2, the Celtics benefited greatly, defeating 20 3s en route to a big win. After going cold in Game 3, the Celtics found their shape once again from behind the arc. They went 14 out of 37, good for 37.8 percent.
Horford made five of them, and went 5 of 7 for best 3-point shooting game of the season. It was the first time he’s achieved five seconds in a single game since last January, and it came at a perfect time for the Celtics.
“It’s like you said we know we can get it every time,” Celtics coach Im Odoka said. “I told him to be very aggressive. …everything on a chain. They guard him in a specific way. Anytime you have Lopez away in this place, you can literally run a pick-and-pop anytime you want and get 3 open on At least shut it down.”
The Celtics did a lot of pick-and-pop, but they also used other tactics to get Horford’s open look. Sometimes he would spot in the corner — “we like to hide him in certain areas of the field,” Odoka explained — forcing Lopez into an unprofitable position. If Lopez stays attached to Horford, it will unlock the ledge, and if he goes to protect the ledge, he will unlock Horford.
Horford led a perfect 6-of-6 from the field in the fourth quarter, and this trio put the Celtics ahead forever.
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