George Hill may not be a Milwaukee Buck next season, but he was one very, very important Milwaukee Buck Friday night.
Hill scored 21 points to lead a gigantic bench effort as the Bucks topped the Boston Celtics, 123-116, to take a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinals series.
Giannis Antetokounmpo went for 32 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, but the bench provided the biggest difference in this one.
Pat Connaughton dropped in 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds, as Milwaukee reserves outscored Boston’s, 42-16.
Hill made 9 of 12 shots, and his offensive outburst helped make up for an off night by starting point Eric Bledsoe, who made just 4 of 15 shots for nine points.
Khris Middleton chipped in 20 points and two of his three 3-pointers played huge roles in the victory.
First, he drained a pullup triple with 3:11 left in the third to give the Bucks an 86-82 lead. The shot counted for the third, fourth and fifth points in what became a 12-0 run that turned an 82-81 deficit into a 93-82 lead.
The Bucks led, 95-87, after three, and Antetokounmpo scored three as the Bucks scored the first four of the fourth quarter for a 99-87 lead. The margin reached 16 when Connaughton capped a 7-0 run to make it 106-90.
The Celtics got a few stops and got within 106-94 when Antetokounmpo stopped in and took a charge against Semi Ojeleye. Needing a good possession and basket, the Bucks seemed to bog down again before Middleton stepped back against pressure and drilled a 3-pointer with 6:12 left. A layup by Hill made it 111-94, and the Bucks kept the Celtics at bay the rest of the way.
Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 29 points — 20 more than his Game 2 output — and Jayson Tatum had a big night with 20 points. But Irving went just 8 for 22, and the Celtics shot just 43.2% (35 of 81).
The Bucks survived missing 12 free throws (24 of 36), while the Celtics went 30 for 32 from the line and 16 of 40 on threes. Antetokounmpo went to the line 22 times, making 16.
Connaughton scored 11 of his points in the first half, helping the Bucks cut a 12-point deficit down to 56-55 by the half. The Bucks trailed, 46-34, before closing the half with a 21-10 run. Connaughton and Mirotic made 3-pointers in the closing run, and Antetokounmpo scored six.
As has been the case in every game thus far, the third period proved decisive. After Middleton’s 3-pointer made it 86-82, Hill scored the next seven points, six on two 3-pointers. The Bucks outscored the Celtics, 40-29, in the period.
Milwaukee outscored Boston, 39-18, in the third quarter Tuesday night in Game 2, and the Celtics posted a 36-21, third-quarter edge in their Game 1 victory on Sunday.
Jaylen Brown scored 18, Al Horford added 17 and Marcus Morris 16, but the lack of bench power for Boston hurt Boston. Gordon Hayward scored 10, and Semi Ojeleye made two 3-pointers. That was it for the Boston reserves.
Game 4 will be played Monday night in Boston, as the Bucks will look to grab a 3-1 lead.
Before the game Friday night, Malcolm Brogdon — out since March 17 with a tear of his left plantar fascia — worked out hard and is close to returning. Sterling Brown had been starting in Brogdon’s place up until Game 2, when Nikola Mirotic started. Brown did not play at all Friday night.
Mirotic finished with 13 points, including 3-of-7 shooting on 3-pointers.