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Bucks vs. Celtics Final Score: Greg Monroe, Khris Middleton help Bucks stave off Boston comeback, 112-111

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What might have been one of the Bucks' most comprehensive wins of the season eventually turned into arguably their most nerve-wracking.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It was the best of third quarters, it was the worst of fourth quarters. It was...well, still a win.

Greg Monroe (29 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks) and Michael Carter-Williams (16 points, five assists, five rebounds) stole the pregame headlines with the news that they'd be coming off the bench, and they stole them during the game as well as they helped the Bucks build a 19-point lead and then hang on for dear life to defeat the Boston Celtics 112-111 at the Bradley Center on Tuesday night. Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley led the Celtics with 18 points on 12 shots each, but Boston's second ranked defense allowed the Bucks to shoot 51% overall and pile up a 64-44 edge in the paint.

Speaking of the paint, the Celtics had no answer for Monroe in the game's first three quarters, as the Bucks' usual starting center racked up an eye-popping 27 points in 21 minutes to help Milwaukee to a 93-74 lead through 36 minutes. But the Celtics bounced back from the Bucks' dominant 40-20 third quarter, whittling away at Milwaukee's lead before silencing the Bradley Center crowd on Jae Crowder's game-tying three-pointer with 23 seconds left.

To their credit, the Bucks didn't panic. Khris Middleton (20 points on 16 shots, five rebounds, five assists) showed good patience in working the clock down before finding Monroe, who took advantage of deep position on the right side to quickly turn baseline for a short right-handed hook with just 1.0 second left on the clock -- his first points of the final period. But the Bucks once again made life difficult for themselves, as Jerryd Bayless was called for pushing Kelly Olynyk in the back on an inbounds lob that Olynyk never had a chance of catching. Olynyk certainly sold it as well, but Bayless looked the part of a guilty man and the Canadian big made both free throws to tie it at 111.

The upside of that play was the time it took off the clock -- none. Because the whistle came as the ball was crashing off the backboard, the Bucks got the ball back with one second still left on the clock, and this time the Celtics returned the favor as Avery Bradley raked Middleton across the arm as he caught and turned on the left side. It's tough to tell what Bradley might have been thinking: Boston didn't have a foul to give, and Middleton was going to have a tough look as he turned from 18 feet. Middleton hit the first free throw to make it 112-111, and his intentional miss on the next free throw left the Celtics with no chance to get off a last shot.

Jason Kidd's decision to start Miles Plumlee and O.J. Mayo seemed to motivate Monroe and MCW, as they helped the Bucks shake off an early 10-point deficit to draw within 30-26 after one quarter. Giannis Antetokounmpo (14 points on 6/12 shooting, three blocks) got going for eight in the period and then watched as Monroe shook off a couple missed layups early to score 15 first half points and further narrow Boston's lead to 54-53 at intermission. Needless to say, the Moose was looking uncommonly frisky:

The Bucks then responded with arguably their best quarter of the year, riding early energy from Giannis and Jabari Parker (10 points on 5/12 shooting) before Monroe went to work again. Flashing his full arsenal of drop-steps, spin moves and ambidextrous hook shots, Monroe dominated seemingly everyone the Celtics could throw at him, particularly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller. And when the Celtics began to bring double teams, he found MCW for back-to-back cutting layups to extend the Bucks' lead to double-digits.

- Frank Madden

Tidbits:

  • The Bucks made a major shakeup in their starting lineup Tuesday night with Michael Carter-Williams and Greg Monroe coming off the bench and Miles Plumlee and O.J. Mayo coming off the bench.
  • The move caused quite a bit of activity on Twitter, but had little difference on the game. Mayo exited after just three minutes to start the game and Monroe came in a minute later for Plumlee.
  • Giannis played the whole first quarter and then didn't re-enter the game for 10 minutes of game action as he came back with 2:12 left in the second quarter.
  • Monroe's 29 points were a season high. It marked the sixth time he has scored 29 or more points in a game during his six-year career.

Thoughts:

  • The Bucks often try to get Jabari touches early in the first and third quarter and they did it again tonight. Parker was also able to get a number of touches in transition early in the game, which made it feel as though he was featured more than he has been in other games, but I'm not 100% sure that is actually what occurred.
  • With that being said, Jabari did seem very aggressive overall. I'd have to make this a larger research project, but I think Jabari's "energy and aggression" is very much based on the pace of the game. I would not be surprised to find out his "most aggressive" games have been games in which the pace has been quickest. All of that is to say, seeing Parker become more comfortable in halfcourt situations should be the true barometer of improvement to his game, not a fast game in which he manages to get to 20 points.
  • If tonight's version of Monroe is the guy the Bucks are going to get with him coming off the bench, he should remain on the bench the rest of the season. He was extremely aggressive attacking the basket, ultimately scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the first half. He then added 14 points and five more rebounds in the second half.
  • As I said after the Bucks beat the Warriors in Milwaukee, nights like tonight are what the Bucks were envisioning when they acquired Monroe. While everyone else is going small and chucking up threes, the Bucks can counter with a grind it out post approach with Monroe. Unfortunately, tonight's game and the Bucks' win against the Warriors are the only two examples that come to mind when thinking of times Monroe has taken over in the post for more than a two or three minute stretch. That does not seem like an ideal approach.
  • The Bucks were pretty good defensively in the first three quarters tonight and then it all fell apart in the fourth quarter. In the first three quarters, they were extremely active and forced 18 turnovers. They failed to force a fourth quarter turnover and gave up 37 points in the game's final period. They've given up 37 or more points in a quarter seven other times this season.
  • After watching Monroe obliterate single coverage in the third, the Celtics doubled him at every opportunity in the fourth. The first three resulted in exactly what Brad Stevens would have hoped: missed threes by Giannis and MCW as well as a Crowder steal when Monroe tried to put it on the floor.
  • Middleton struggled again in the first half, missing four of five shots thanks in large part to Bradley's suffocating defense. But he grew in stature as the game went on and scored or assisted on 12 of the Bucks' final 14 points.
- Eric Nehm