MILWAUKEE (AP) Giannis Antetokounmpo found a way to get better shots and get back to his peak form just in time to help defending champion Milwaukee Bucks regain the lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
But it was the Boston Celtics’ poor timing that ultimately made the difference.
Antetokounmpo bounced back from a rare lackluster performance by scoring 42 points and making the tee shot with 44.3 seconds left in a 103-101 victory on Saturday. The Bucks lead the best-of-7 series 2-1, with Game 4 on Monday night in Milwaukee.
“I know what my strengths are,” Antetokounmpo said. “Just try to read what’s in front of me and play with my instincts. Sometimes I’ll make the right play and sometimes I’ll make the wrong play, but as long as I play to my strengths, we’ll be well placed.
Victory was not assured until replays confirmed that Al Horford’s potential draw – capping a wild streak after Marcus Smart intentionally missed a free throw – came just after the buzzer.
“I saw Al flip it and I saw the red outline disappear on the backboard,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said. “It was very close.”
Boston trailed 103-100 when officials determined Marcus Smart was fouled by Jrue Holiday just before attempting a potential 3-point tie with 4.6 seconds left. Since it was a no-shot foul, Smart only got two free throw attempts.
Smart made the first free throw, then missed the second intentionally – throwing a shot that hit the backboard hard before hitting the rim.
That’s when things got crazy.
Smart got the rebound, but missed his throw-in attempt. Boston’s Robert Williams charged to the basket and sent the ball up and out of the glass. Horford was waiting on the right side with a comeback attempt that also exploded. Horford then got his own rebound and cashed in, but his final shot came just after the buzzer sounded.
“I totally missed it,” Smart said. “No one was ready, (but) our guys were. I put it on the rim. We had a few chances. It just didn’t work for us.
The Celtics thought Smart should have had the opportunity to tie the game at the line. Celtics coach Ime Udoka and Smart said it should have been a shooting foul on vacation.
“You can clearly see it,” Udoka said. “I saw it in person, but also on film. I just went to see him. It’s a hit. He cowers into his shot. He is the victim of a fault on the way up. Bad missed call.
“Honestly, it looked like he was still facing the sideline,” said Holiday, who scored 25 points. “It’s not a shooting move. He was not facing the rim.
Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Horford had 22 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.
Boston trailed 14 points late in the third quarter and faced a 13-point deficit with less than 10 minutes left before coming back strong. The Celtics took a 100-99 lead and took their first lead since the start of their third quarter on Brown’s two free throws with 1:49 left.
Both teams failed to score on their next possessions before Antetokounmpo put the Bucks back in front. Antetokounmpo then blocked Brown’s lay-up attempt, leading to Holiday’s basket which made it 103-100 with 11.2 seconds remaining.
Antetokounmpo’s winning plays in the final minute highlighted his rebounding performance.
After shooting 38.5% (20 of 52) in the first two games of this series, Antetokounmpo went 16 of 30 on Saturday. He made 62.5% of his attempts (15 of 24) from two points. He had 12 rebounds and eight assists to go along with his 42 points.
It was a major improvement from his outing in Game 2, when he went 2 of 12 and scored just five points in the first half before finishing with 28 in the Bucks’ 109-86 loss.
“There are going to be struggles, but at the end of the day if you keep going and stick with it and stay the course, you’re going to be successful,” Antetokounmpo said. “If you don’t stay the course, you won’t succeed. It’s that simple.”
Antetokounmpo made sure the Bucks weren’t deflected in their title defense.
TATUM’S HARD DAY
On a day when Brown and Horford both produced double-doubles, the Celtics still lost in part because of the struggles of All-Star forward Jayson Tatum. Tatum shot 4 of 19 overall and missed all six of his 3-point attempts before finishing with 10 points.
Tatum said his left wrist bothered him, but added that it didn’t affect his game.
“I was probably thinking a little too much,” Tatum said. “It all boils down to me needing to do better readings.”
Celtics: Robert Williams went to the locker room in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the face of Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis as they tangled under the basket while chasing the ball. Williams returned later in the third. … Reserve forward Sam Hauser, who had played two minutes in each of the first two games of the series, was unavailable Saturday with a right shoulder injury. Udoka said Hauser fell in training. “He’ll be fine in the long run,” Udoka said. “It’s just something where he could be out for a few weeks on that basis.” … The Celtics lost despite having a major advantage at the foul line. The Celtics were 28 of 33 and the Bucks 14 of 17 on free throw attempts.
Bucks: Reserve guard George Hill played for the first time this postseason after recovering from abdominal muscle strain. … Grayson Allen made his first career playoff start and Portis moved to a bench role. … The Bucks overcame a significant free throw disparity. The Celtics were 28 of 33 and the Bucks 14 of 17 on free throw attempts. … Lopez had 13 points and 10 rebounds. He had eight points in the first two games of this series.
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