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Rapid Recap: Bucks 123, Celtics 116

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The Milwaukee Bucks now hold a 2-1 series lead.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In a monumental matchup between two Eastern Conference contenders, the Milwaukee Bucks outlasted the Boston Celtics, 123-116.

The first half was a, in a word, slugfest. Both teams fought tooth and nail, and Milwaukee entered halftime down only one point. Then a huge third quarter (40-31) pushed the Bucks up by eight points, and a strangely friendly whistle in the early portion of the fourth quarter allowed Milwaukee to maintain a decent lead, and a late game quasi-comeback in the form of an 8-0 run within 2 minutes from Boston took things to the final margin.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was somewhat stymied in the first half, but ended up with 32 points, 18 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. Khris Middleton had a somewhat muted game as well, with 20 points, 5 assists, 4 boards, and 3 steals. Pat Connaughton helped carry the team off the bench, adding 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. George Hill was an even bigger boost, contributing 21 points. Nikola Mirotic (13 points, 3/7 from deep) enjoyed his second game as a member of the starting lineup after Sterling Brown was moved back to the reserves.

Eric Bledsoe drew Bucks’ fans ire with a number of forced plays and suboptimal shots in the first half, putting up 9 points, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers. He was too often out of position and felt out of sorts, leading to heavier-than-usual George Hill minutes. To his credit, though, Bledsoe had a strong showing in the fourth quarter that helped preserve the lead when Milwaukee needed it. Brook Lopez also continued to struggle (7 points, 6 boards, 2 blocks), as he was unable to find many of the looks he has found been all year.

For Boston, Kyrie Irving returned to his customary excellence, putting up 29 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals. Marcus Morris (16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks), Jayson Tatum (20 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals) and Jaylen Brown (18 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, but 6 fouls) also pitched in, and Brown included an absolutely filthy dunk on Giannis in the third quarter.

(I know, I know, this isn’t CelticsBlog, but that dunk was too good to not include.)

Al Horford (17 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists) isn’t as well-known for his flashy stats, but seemed somewhat less effective defending Giannis tonight. Was it because Giannis was getting more calls as a result of the contact he endured, or was Horford just off tonight? We’ll have to see on Monday. Elsewhere, the Celtics didn’t get much out of anyone else. Speaking of which...

Stat That Stood Out

Milwaukee’s bench (42 points) showed up tonight. Boston’s bench (16 points)...not so much. The Celtics leaned heavily on their starters for offense, but foul trouble removed any margin for error they had. On a night where Kyrie, Tatum, Brown, and Morris were able to score at a decent clip, Boston needed contributions from somewhere else and simply didn’t get them.