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Boston Celtics host Milwaukee Bucks in battle of Eastern powers

BOSTON — Back on Nov. 1, the Celtics hit a franchise-record 24 3-pointers and defeated the Bucks in Boston, handing Milwaukee its first loss off the season after seven straight wins.

“We still think we are one of the best teams,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said after his triple double wasn’t enough to beat the Celtics. “Tonight we didn’t have an ‘A’ or ‘B’ game. Probably a ‘C’ game, but we were still close to winning the game in Boston.”

And now, almost two months later, the Bucks, who were eliminated by Boston in seven games in last year’s playoffs, are 21-9 and ahead of Boston in the Eastern Conference standings as they hit TD Garden for the second time this season Friday night.

Milwaukee topped the New Orleans Pelicans 123-115 at home Wednesday night for their third straight win — while the Celtics, still getting hammered by injury, dropped their second straight after an eight-game winning streak — falling to the Phoenix Suns 111-103.

The Milwaukee victory came in a matchup of two of the NBA’s best — Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis.

“Of course, I take it as a challenge,” Antetokounmpo said after scoring 25 points and posting eight rebounds and eight assists. “Anthony Davis is a great guy and obviously he’s one of the best players in the league right now. Whenever you have the opportunity to play against those guys, you know, you try to go as hard as you can and establish yourself in this league also.”

Second-year player T.J. Wilson came off the bench to score nine points and grab 10 rebounds and the Bucks’ bench played a major role in the latest win.

“It’s a huge statement. You need that throughout the season,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “You need your bench. It’s a really important part.”

Said Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 33.7 points per game during the winning streak: “D.J. has done a great job of just playing the game and waiting for his chance. He’s learning right now.”

Boston, already missing Al Horford and Marcus Morris both resting sore knees, lost Aron Baynes to a broken left hand early in the game — Baynes slated to miss a month with the injury.

Kyrie Irving, set to face Antetokounmpo in another matchup of stars, scored 28 points the first time the teams played (the Greek Freak had 33 points,15 rebounds,11 assists) and led the Celtics with 29 points, 10 assists and five rebounds Wednesday.

The 18-12 Celtics, who rallied from 22 points down and defeated the Suns in overtime in Phoenix earlier this season, jumped out to a quick 11-point lead before the Suns arrived and turn the game around.

“I think it started after the first quarter,” Irving said. “They just picked up their aggressiveness and they were pretty much in rhythm for the rest of the night.”

Irving added: “Well, we just have to have consistency amongst all our units, whoever is in. Just a cohesion where the ball is moving, and guys actually see other players be in the position to score the basketball, so that means delivering on time, actually caring about … actually trying. Certain possessions, we’re actually where down the stretch, it’s like for some games that we’ve played, when we try, we’re in the game all the time. And when we don’t, we’re clearly not.

“We [can’t] look to the refs or anything like that. For us as a growing team and learning from one another, we have to continue to build that cohesion.”

Asked about Horford, who has missed the last six games and is practicing, Boston coach Brad Stevens said, “Feeling better, getting better. Reassess pretty much every day.”

The Celtics are 4-2 since Horford went down.

Boston comes into the game, the second of a four-game homestand, 9-4 at home, while the Bucks, starting a three-game trip, are 7-6 on the road.

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