Giannis Antetokounmpo had 39 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Bucks to a 113-101 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of their second-round playoff series on Monday night and move Milwaukee within one win from its first trip to the Eastern Conference finals since 2001.
“Giannis, it's hard to find the words (for) what he does for our team, both ends of the court,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He's special, but he's very hungry. He wants more, and he's playing that way.”
The Bucks have won three straight since losing the opener of the best-of-seven series at home and can eliminate the Celtics in Game 5 at home on Wednesday night. They have not reached the East finals since the ‘01 team of Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson fell to Philadelphia's Allen Iverson and Dikembe Motumbo in seven games.
Boston beat Milwaukee in seven games in the first round last year and went on to lose to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in seven games in last year's conference finals. They will have to win three straight — two of them on the road — to return.
“It takes a lot of mental fortitude, it takes a lot of mental toughness, and it reveals a lot,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I'm looking forward to that challenge.”
One game after Antetokounmpo was two assists shy of a triple-double, he scored 17 points with seven rebounds in the fourth quarter to help the Bucks pull away. Reserves George Hill, who scored 15 points, and Pat Connaughton, who had nine points and 10 rebounds, again led the Bucks bench, which outscored Boston's 32-7.
“Yeah that was killer,” Stevens said. “Their bench comes in, they've had no dropoff. Connaughton's been excellent. George Hill's been absolutely tremendous.”
In what might be his last home game for the Celtics, Kyrie Irving scored 23 points with 10 assists. But he was 7 for 22 from the floor, including 1 for 7 from 3-point range; after leading all scorers with 26 points in Boston's Game 1 blowout, he has made 19 of 62 shots and just 4 of 20 from 3-point range.
Irving, who can become a free agent this summer, left the court to a lone fan shouting at him, “Don't leave!”
Boston led by as many as 11 points before Connaughton made a long 3 at the first-quarter buzzer to make it 30-22. With about five minutes left in the second, the Bucks scored eight straight points to tie it.
Boston led 67-65 before Milwaukee scored 13 of the next 14 points — seven of them by Hill — to open a double-digit lead. The Bucks made it 12 points early in the fourth.
With the Celtics drawing a shot clock violation on their first possession of the fourth quarter, the crowd began booing. They were down 82-72 at the time after giving up a 9-0 run late in the third.
But the crowd was back on its feet, chanting “Let's Go Celtics!” midway through the third, when Horford made a pair of baskets around a 3-pointer by Tatum to cut the deficit to five, 91-86 with 7:19 to play.