For two-plus quarters the Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t shoot straight against the Boston Celtics. Things got even worse when Giannis Antetokounmpo had to go to the bench with his fourth foul with 8:18 left in the third quarter. Need things to get even worse? Khris Middleton went to the bench with his fourth foul a little over a minute later.
Not exactly the way coach Mike Budenholzer would have drawn it up.
One thing Budenholzer does draw up, though, is to trust in bench players such as George Hill, Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton and Ersan Ilyasova. Those four players keyed a big third-quarter run, and the Bucks pulled away for a 113-101 victory and a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinals series.
The Bucks return home with a chance to clinch the series in Game 5 Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum.
Antetokounmpo returned to dominate in the fourth quarter, finishing with 39 points and 16 rebounds, but the fourth quarter was only possible because of what Hill, Brown and Connaughton did in the final four minutes of the third.
With the Bucks trailing, 67-65, Hill, Connaughton, Brown and Ersan Ilyasova scored all the points in a 15-5 run that gave the Bucks the lead for good.
Ilyasova tied the game by putting back Hill’s missed drive. Hill’s next drive connected, giving the Bucks the lead for good at 69-67 with 3:25 left in the third. After Kyrie Irving made 1 of 2 free throws, Hill pulled up on a fast break and drilled a 3-pointer for a 72-68 lead, forcing a Celtics timeout.
It didn’t slow the Bucks. While the Celtics couldn’t solve the Milwaukee defense, Brown scored on a drive fro the corner to the lane, Connaughton scored a fast-break dunk he started by blocking Terry Rozier’s 3-point attempt, and Hill scored again on a floating banker across the lane.
That capped a 13-1 run, and the Bucks took an 80-72 lead into the fourth.
Antetokounmpo watched this all from the bench , then returned for the fourth quarter and picked up where the bench mob left off. the leading candidate for MVP collected 17 points and seven rebounds in the final quarter, and the Bucks never allowed the Celtics to get closer than five points.
Nearly all of Antetokounmpo’s points stopped Celtics momentum.
Irving made to free throws to cut it to 82-74. Antetokounmpo scored easily on a drive.
Al Horford made a 3-pointer. Antetokounmpo countered with a 3-point play off a spinning drive.
A 7-0 run pulled the Celtics within 91-86 with 7:25 left. The TD Ameritrade Garden crowd tried to will its team back into the game.
Instead, Antetokounmpo drove and passed, this time finding Brook Lopez for a killer 3-pointer. Another 3-point play by Antetokounmpo, the the lead was back in double digits at 97-86 with 6:00 left.
Boston never got closer than eight the rest of the way, with Antetokounmpo scoring nine more points.
Over the final eight minutes, the Bucks just picked apart the Boston defense. They continually got mismatches, with Antetokounmpo scoring over and around the much smaller Irving. And with Boston defenders switching and out of position, the Bucks kept getting layups from Lopez, Hill and Eric Bledsoe. It truly was a clinic.
Hill finished with 15 points. Middleton and Bledsoe chipped in 13 each. Connaughton finished with nine points and 10 rebounds.
In the end, though, the Bucks defense held just as much responsibility. Milwaukee held Boston to 37.8% shooting (34 for 90), including a 9-for-41 (22%) problem on 3-pointers.
Irving led Boston with 23 points but went just 7 for 22. Horford added 20, Marcus Morris 18, Jayson Tatum 17 and Jaylen Brown 16. But the Boston bench went just 3 for 17 for seven points. The Bucks bench doubled that just in the last four minutes of the third, finishing with 32.