MILWAUKEE – Minus 2-1 in the series, his defensive backbone on the bench and who is Boston turning to?
Al Horfordof course.
The Celtics are alive in this second-round series because of the 35-year-old former All-Star they bought last summer because of a broken spike and a mid-round pick. Who knew that when Brad Stevens, in one of his first acts as president of basketball operations, overturned Kemba Walker and Boston ’21 who first bought Horford, that the chances of a Boston title depended on it?
I am not. Neither are you.
Horford has played 132 playoff games in his career. There were a few better ones than this. None, perhaps, had a greater impact. In 42 minutes Horford scored a record 30 career playoff points, 16 in the fourth quarter. “He’s made great strides,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. Mike Gorman, the voice of the Celtics for almost four decades, tweeted it was a performance among the top three in the fourth quarter by Celtics players. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points. The Horford-led defense forced him to 32 shots to get them.
Udoka’s name said: “We really needed him to step up with the guys out there. He took it on his shoulders. “
This is not a series. It’s a street fight. It’s a wrestling game in basketball shoes. There were 42 fouls in game 4. There could have been 82. Elbows flew. Forearms too. after the game, Marcus Smart accused Antetokounmpo of kicking him. Bodies hit the ground on almost every property. The Fisher Forum was more like Lambeau Field.
“Everyone is arguing,” Smart said. “You have the best players in that.”
For a while, it looked like the Bucks would pull it off better. It was a one-point game at half time. But in the second consecutive game, the Celtics came out of the locker room. Antetokounmpo scored 13 points. In attack, Boston shot 40% off the floor. Milwaukee increased their lead to 11 at the end of the third quarter. Ivica was seven for the start of the fourth, and the Celtics looked in trouble.
And then … Horford. It was forgotten in the defeat of the Celtics in the 3rd game how good Horford was. He scored 22 points and collected 16 rebounds in 39 minutes. His equalizer in the game in the fourth quarter was a split second late. Boston’s furious comeback in the fourth quarter was brief, but offered motivation to enter the fourth game. Udoka said, “We were all pretty angry about the way we lost the last game.”
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Horford was motivated. It lasted the whole season. Left to die after the disastrous ’19 -20 season in Philadelphia, Horford reappeared last year in Oklahoma City. His shot improved by three points. Working with Thunder’s medical staff, Horford straightened his body. Oklahoma City’s decision to close Horford in the middle of the season was strategic for Thunder, but playing just 28 games last season, Celtics officials say, probably benefited Horford in this one.
Yet when Thunder offered Horford, no one wanted him. Not without Oklahoma City enclosing property along with it. Boston came, led by Stevens, who coached Horford for three seasons. The Celtics wanted Horford, were eager to terminate Walker’s contract and were willing to submit a first-round pick to do so. In 69 games, Horford averaged 10.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and secured the veteran lead that Boston desperately needs. “He’s one of the best vets we’ve ever had,” Smart said. “The best vet I’ve ever had.”
Horford was ready for the 4th game. But if he needed more motivation, he got it in the second quarter, when Antetokounmpo glared at Horford after the dunk, pulling out a mocking technique for it. As he headed toward the other end of the field, Horford nodded calmly. He was angry inside. “I didn’t understand what he said, but I didn’t like the way he looked at me. That got me moving. ”
Early in the fourth quarter, Horford retaliated by knocking on Antetokounmpo, catching the former MVP with a stray forearm on the way down.
He made all six of his shots. He connected on a pair of threes. He was a plus-17 in the fourth and a team high plus-20 for the game.
“It was huge for us,” Smart said. “It never changes with him. If things go bad or good, he will be him. ”
Below, Horford received help. Jayson Tatum scored 18 points in three quarters. But it took him 18 shots to get them. He didn’t have an assist in the first half. He came to the free throw line twice. Milwaukee’s physical defense, led by Jrue Holiday, plagued him throughout the series. But Tatum stuck to it. He scored 12 points in the fourth, connecting five of his six shots. He collected a few jumps. He awarded two assists. As Giannis got tired, Tatum set off, interrupted by 27 feet, giving Boston its first double-digit advantage.
“I played horribly in Game 3,” Tatum said. “I was just ready to play. Whether it was goals or not, I just wanted to play better. Play better basketball, you know?”
This is now a war of attrition. “It’s a playoff,” Budenholzer said. “That’s how it should be.” Antetokounmpo, an occasional attacking band with Khris Middleton, looked tired in the fourth quarter on Monday. Holiday, who scored 30 shots in Game 3, had 5-22 in Game 4. As the series returns to Boston, the Bucks will need someone to remove the attack attack from Antetokounmpa. “No one said it would be easy,” Antetokounmpo said. “We have to go to Boston and play good basketball.”
Really. Boston regained the advantage of the home field, but the Bucks proved that they can win there. The Celtics are equally tired and even more broken. Robert Williams, who recovered faster than expected from knee surgery in March, missed a fourth game with knee pain. It is unclear when he will return. As this series enters its final stages, the Bucks must believe they can still beat it.
“It wasn’t our game,” Antetokounmpo said. “It was their game today. You have to put on your hat and come out ready to play 5. ”
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