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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Celtics Win Game Four in Milwaukee, Retake Home Court Advantage

Al Horford scored a playoff career-high 30 points and Jayson Tatum also scored 30 points as the Boston Celtics rallied from an 11 point deficit to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 116-108 to tie their playoff series at 2-2. The Celtics reclaimed home court advantage as the series shifts back to Boston for the pivotal game five. Horford shot 11-14 from the field, grabbed eight rebounds, and led both teams with a +20 plus/minus number. Tatum had a team-high 13 rebounds, and he also had five assists. Tatum shot 11-24 from the field. Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart scored 18 points each. Smart had a team-high eight assists.

Giannis Antetokounmpo notched game-high totals in points (34) and rebounds (18), and he also had five assists, but he shot 14-32 from the field and he looked uncharacteristically tired late in the fourth quarter when he was subbed out for a quick rest (less than one minute of game time). He had a +1 plus/minus number in 41 minutes, which means that the Bucks trailed by nine points in the seven minutes that he did not play. Brook Lopez had a solid game (17 points, seven rebounds), but Jrue Holiday shot just 5-22 from the field en route to posting a -23 plus/minus number. Holiday had 16 points, a game-high nine assists, and seven rebounds, but his poor shooting is becoming a significant subplot in this series. He is best suited to being the third offensive option and lead perimeter defender, but as this series progresses the absence of injured All-Star Khris Middleton is increasingly being felt at both ends of the court as Holiday is being forced to shoulder a heavier load than he can carry without a corresponding drop in his efficiency.

The Bucks started the game strongly, leading 25-18 by the end of the first quarter after forcing five turnovers, winning the rebounding battle 17-9, and holding the Celtics to .364 field goal shooting. The Bucks should have been ahead by even more, but they only shot .357 from the field.

In the second quarter, the Bucks continued to shoot poorly (.333 field goal percentage) but the Celtics cut their turnovers to two, fought to a 12-12 draw on the boards, and outscored the Bucks 29-23 to shave Milwaukee's lead to 48-47 by halftime.

Antetokounmpo dominated the third quarter with 13 points on 5-8 field goal shooting as the Bucks shot .526 from the field, outscored the Celtics 32-26, and extended their advantage to 76-65 before settling for an 80-73 lead heading into the final 12 minutes. 

Depending on how you view it, in the fourth quarter either the Bucks' defense fell apart or the Celtics' offense operated at absolute peak efficiency: the Celtics shot 16-19 from the field (.842) en route to outscoring the Bucks 43-28. Milwaukee is a championship team that prides itself on using its height and strength to defend with great tenacity, so that performance--with a great opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead--is very surprising. Horford outscored the Bucks 16-14 at the start of the fourth quarter, and he tied the score at 80-80 with an emphatic dunk over Antetokounmpo at the 9:51 mark. Antetokounmpo fouled Horford on the play, and Horford was assessed a technical foul because his elbow made contact with Antetokounmpo's face as both players tumbled to the ground. Horford shot 6-6 from the field in the fourth quarter, and Tatum was almost as deadly, scoring 12 points on 5-6 field goal shooting. Antetokounmpo scored six fourth quarter points on 3-7 field goal shooting, and Holiday was 0-5 from the field in the final stanza. Lopez had 10 points on 4-5 field goal shooting, but that was not nearly enough to hold off the rampaging Celtics.

During the playoffs, there is an amusing tendency for commentators to jump off and on various bandwagons from game to game; the team that just won is portrayed as invincible, while the team that just lost has several insurmountable matchup problems. The reality is nuanced, and is based on how the matchups play out over the course of several games. Does Boston's road win after dominating the fourth quarter change my prediction? No--in fact, the series is "on schedule" from my perspective, because in my series preview I noted that both teams can win on the road, and I predicted that Milwaukee would win game five in Boston before taking game six back in Milwaukee. I did not know how the series would progress from game to game but I expected a 2-2 tie with each team winning once on the road. If I am right--and if there are no further injuries--Antetokoumpo's greatness will be the distinguishing factor, just as it was during Milwaukee's championship run last season.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:45 AM



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