MILWAUKEE (AP) – Giannis Antetokounmpo has found a way to score better shots and get his top form back in time to help title defender Milwaukee Bucks regain the lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But the poor timing of the Boston Celtics made a difference in the end.
Antetokounmpo came back after a rare result that was worse, scoring 42 points and throwing in the basket with 44.3 seconds to go in a 103-101 win on Saturday. The Bucks lead the series 7-1 best, with a fourth game Monday night in Milwaukee.
“I know what my strengths are” said Antetokounmpo. “Just try to read what’s in front of me and just play with my instincts. Sometimes I will play the right game and sometimes the wrong one, but as long as I play within my strength, we will be in a good place. ”
The win wasn’t certain until replays confirmed that Al Horford’s potential kickback in the tie – stopping the wild sequence after Marcus Smart intentionally missed a free throw – came right after the buzzer.
“I saw Al throw it up and I saw the red outline disappear on the board,” Bucks Center Brook Lopez said. “It was very close.”
Boston was 103-100 behind when officials determined Jrue Holiday fouled Marcus Smart just before he tried to equalize a three-pointer in 4.6 seconds to go. Since it was a foul without a shot, Smart only got two free throw attempts.
Smart made the first free throw and then deliberately missed the second – he bounced off a shot that went off the board strongly before hitting the edge.
Then things went wild.
Smart got the return ball, but missed the return attempt. Robert Williams of Boston rushed towards the basket and sent the ball up and out of the glass. Horford waited on the right with an attempt at retaliation that also went outside the glass. Horford then got his own jump and threw it in, but his final shot came just after the buzzer sounded.
“I missed him perfectly” said Smart. “No one was ready, (but) our guys are. I lifted him to the edge. We had several opportunities for that. It just didn’t work out for us. “
The Celtics believed that Smart should have had a chance to equalize the game. Celtics coach Ime Udoka and Smart said there should have been a foul on the shot at the Holiday.
“You can see it clearly” said Udoka. “I saw it in person, but also on film. I just went and looked at him. It’s a shot. He twists into his blow. He gets fouled on the way up. Badly missed call. ”
“Honestly, it looked like it was still turned to the side,” said Holiday, who scored 25 points. “It’s not shooting. He was not facing the edge. “
Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Horford had 22 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.
Boston were late 14 by the end of the third quarter and faced a 13-point deficit by less than 10 minutes before retaliating. The Celtics took a 100-99 lead and took the first lead since the start of the third quarter after two Brown free throws with 1:49 left.
Both teams failed to score in their next possession before Antetokounmpo brought the Bucks back forward. Antetokounmpo then blocked Brown’s attempt to pass in the run, leading to a Holiday basket that scored 103-100 with 11.2 seconds to go.
Antetokounmpa’s winning games in the last minute highlighted his return performance.
After hitting 38.5% (20 of 52) in the first two games of this series, Antetokounmpo won 16 of 30 on Saturday. 62.5% of attempts (15 of 24) were made from a two-point range. He had 12 rebounds and eight assists with his 42 points.
It was a big improvement over his exit from Game 2, when he passed 2 of 12 and scored just five points in the first half before finishing 28th in the Bucks ’109-86 defeat.
“There will be struggles, but at the end of the day, if you keep doing it and stay with it and stay on track, you will succeed,” said Antetokounmpo. “If you don’t stay on course, you won’t succeed. It’s that simple. “
Antetokounmpo made sure the Bucks weren’t kicked off course in defending the title.
TATUM’S HARD DAY
On the day Brown and Horford made double double games, however, the Celtics lost in part due to a fight against All-Star striker Jason Tatum. Tatum shot 4 of 19 and missed all six of his attempts by 3 points before finishing with 10 points.
Tatum said his left wrist was bothering him, but added that it did not affect his game.
“I probably thought a little too much” said Tatum. “It all comes down to having to read better.”
Celtics: Robert Williams went to the locker room in the third quarter after hitting Bobby Portis of Milwaukee in the face with his elbow as they tangled under the basket as they chased the ball. Williams returned later in the third. … Reserve striker Sam Hauser, who played two minutes in each of the first two games of the series, was unavailable on Saturday due to a right shoulder injury. Udoka said Hauser fell in training. “It will be good for a long time,” said Udoka. “It’s just something I could be out in for a few weeks based on that.” … The Celtics lost despite having a big advantage on the foul line. The Celtics had 28 out of 33 and the Bucks 14 out of 17 in free throw attempts.
Bucks: Reserve keeper George Hill played for the first time this postseason after recovering from a strained abdominal muscle. … Grayson Allen started his first playoff of his career, and Portis moved to the bench. … The Bucks overcame a big difference in free throws. The Celtics had 28 out of 33 and the Bucks 14 out of 17 in free throw attempts. … Lopez had 13 points and 10 rebounds. He scored eight points in the first two games of this series.