BOSTON – The Milwaukee Bucks will head home with a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals after a stirring 110-107 comeback victory over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night at TD Garden.
After trailing by 14 points early in the fourth quarter, Bobby Portis and Jrue Holiday did the unthinkable in the final moments of the game to give the Bucks a 3-2 series lead over the Celtics.
“It’s a big win,” Holiday said. “That was the plan. The plan was to come here and get a win and no matter if we were up 20, no matter if we were down 20, we wanted to leave here with a win and we did the best we could and got the win. “
First, Portis assisted on a Holiday three-pointer to tie the game at 105 with 41 seconds left. Then, after Jayson Tatum gave the Celtics a 107-105 lead with a pair of free throws with 31 seconds to go, Portis came to the rescue of Giannis Antetokounmpo by putting back a missed free throw to make it 108-107 Milwaukee with 11.4 seconds left.
“He has a nose for the ball, he has a nose for scoring,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said of the putback. “It’s just a huge play.”
Off the ensuing inbound, Holiday literally took the ball out of Marcus Smart’s hands as the Boston guard tried to shoot it, ripping it out of the air. That led to a Bucks timeout and two Pat Connaughton free throws to make it 110-107 with five seconds remaining. Holiday then clinched it by stealing the ball from Smart.
“Big time, big time play, great block and was able to keep his balance and stay on the court,” Antetokounmpo said. “Then at the end of the game he got that steal again from Marcus Smart. Big time plays down the stretch. That’s what Jrue does.”
The Bucks came all the way back from a 14-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to tie the game 105-105 on a Holiday three-pointer with 43.2 seconds left, and Bobby Portis hit the game-winner off an offensive rebound.
Game 6 will be at Fiserv Forum Friday night.
“It feels good. It feels good but at the end of the day we can not get too high, can not get too low,” Antetokounmpo said. “We have two games ahead of us. We have one at home and hopefully we can go there and put ourselves in position to win, enjoy the game as much as possible, compete and play good basketball.”
BOX SCORE:Bucks 110, Celtics 107
SOCIAL MEDIA REACTION:Aaron Rodgers, JJ Watt, Brandon Jennings and others react to the Bucks’ huge comeback win
The Celtics expanded their nine-point lead to 93-79 with 10 minutes, 16 seconds to go, but a handful of three-pointers from Holiday, Connaughton and Wesley Matthews sparked a Bucks rally as they cut it to 101-99 with 4: 08 left.
“To make up that difference we had some guys step up and make some plays,” Budenholzer said of that stretch. “I thought Giannis as a play-maker, Giannis as a backside facilitator got us to some good things.
“I thought Grayson (Allen) made some good plays in the quarter, too. Everybody contributed. Giannis hit a couple threes. It just takes a little bit of everything to flip a 13 or 14-point game.
“So we gotta try and not put ourselves in that position but just play our best and you’re going to have to make some shots, you’re going ot have to make some threes and credit to Grayson and PC and Wes for their playmaking and shot making. ”
It appeared as if Boston stemmed the tide after Al Horford split Antetokounmpo and Connaughton for a tip-slam off a missed Jaylen Brown jumper to make it 105-99 with 2:13 to go.
But Antetokounmpo hit a catch-and-shoot three to get his team back in it and then came down and stole the ball from Smart to set up Holiday’s heroics.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the 14-point blown lead was tied for Boston’s largest in the fourth quarter of a playoff game over the last 25 postseasons.
Antetokounmpo scored 40 points on 16-of-27 shooting and he also pulled down 11 rebounds. Holiday scored 24 points on 9-of-24 shooting and had eight assists and rebounds while Portis came off the bench to score 14 on 4-of-14 shooting. He had 15 rebounds as well. Connaughton added 13 points off the bench.
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Tatum led the Celtics with 34 points on 12-of-29 shooting while Brown had 26. Smart finished with 15 while Daniel Theis (11) and Derrick White (nine) provided a spark off the bench. Horford was limited to eight points on 4-of-7 shooting.
For about 4 ½ minutes the Bucks hustled on the offensive glass and rotated fiercely on defense while hitting a couple of threes to gradually work a seven-point halftime deficit down to one – only to see the Celtics finish the third quarter with runs of 11- 4 and 10-2 to lead by as many as a dozen before ultimately taking an 86-77 lead into the fourth quarter.
Brown went 6 for 10 from the field – including several tough makes – to score 16 points and keep the Bucks at arm’s length. The Celtics countered the Bucks ‘intensity to keep the visitors from taking a lead, with Tatum and Brown scoring off their own misses on two occasions to stifle the Bucks’ momentum.
As the quarter went on Boston got timely baskets from Smart and Theis to complement Brown, and it took five points from Antetokounmpo in the final 65 seconds to keep the Celtics from running away with it at that point.
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Milwaukee opened the game making 3 of its first 4 three-pointers in the first two minutes of action – but then went 1 for 12 the rest of the half as Boston took a 54-47 lead into the break.
The Celtics also scored 11 points off nine Bucks turnovers while turning it over just twice as they lead by as many as 13 in the first half. Antetokounmpo scored 19 of the Bucks’ points while Holiday added nine, but the other six players to see court time combined for only 19 points.
And, after a 3-for-4 start to the game, Holiday missed his last five shots of the first half for Milwaukee.
It was a different story for the Celtics, who did get 16 points from Tatum but saw White and Theis contribute nine apiece off the bench.
The balanced scoring – and ball movement (14 assists on 21 baskets) – helped the Celtics go on runs of 7-0 and 11-0 in the second quarter to take control of the half after the Bucks took a 28-26 lead after the first quarter. The early threes helped Milwaukee build a seven-point lead and it maintained a slight edge on the scoreboard throughout the opening 12 minutes, but the game turned in the second quarter as White and Theis keyed the Celtics’ effort in the second.
Khris Middleton injury update: Bucks forward makes progress
Khris Middleton has remained a spectator with a left knee injury during games as the Bucks have progressed through the series against the Celtics, but he has been able to get on the court in recent days.
“We’re feeling good about where he is and optimistic,” Budenholzer said before Wednesday’s game. “But, you know, it’s kind of the same update it’s been for the last handful of days.”
Middleton sprained his medial collateral ligament (MCL) in Game 2 against Chicago in the first-round on April 20. He was immediately ruled out of the first four games of the Boston series but Budenholzer would not do so for the rest of the series against the Celtics. Game 6 is in Milwaukee on Friday. If a Game 7 is necessary, it will be on Sunday.