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Huge third quarter helps Bucks even series, 1-1

The “real” Milwaukee Bucks showed up in the second half, and their series against the Boston Celtics has a much different look than it did 48 hours ago.

A swarming defense and paint-invading offense sparked a 24-2 run to close the third quarter, and the Bucks cruised to a 123-102 victory Tuesday night, evening the Eastern Conference semifinal series at a game apiece.

Whatever doubts might have crept into Milwaukee’s psyche were driven out, as the Bucks led, 98-73, after three quarters and by as many as 31 in the fourth.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 15 of his 29 points in the big third quarter, and Khris Middleton scored 28 points, with his 7-of-10 3-point shooting key in the first half.

As much as the offensive numbers showed a major improvement, the Bucks’ defense turned the game — and maybe the series — around.

Milwaukee held Boston to 39.5% (34 of 86) shooting. Kyrie Irving, who blitzed the Bucks for 26 points in Sunday’s 112-90 Boston victory, was held to nine points on 4-of-18 shooting.

Marcus Morris led the Celtics with 17 points, Jaylen Brown added 16 and Al Horford chipped in 15. None of the other Celtics reached double figures. Horford (3 for 5) and Morris (3 for 4) hurt the Bucks with 3-pointers, but the rest of the Celtics went 4 for 19 from behind the line.

Baskets by Irving and Morris trimmed what had been a 74-67 Bucks lead to 74-71 with 7:06 left in the third. From there, Antetokounmpo took over on offense and the Bucks defense controlled the other end.

The Celtics missed their next six shots and committed four turnovers as the Bucks scored the game’s next 12 points. Aron Baynes’ tip-in ended the run with 2:45 left in the third. Only for a second, though.

Antetokounmpo answered Baynes’ hoop with a 3-pointer — he’d made one three minutes earlier — and the Bucks closed the period with the final 12 points.

Over their final six possessions of the period, the Celtics went 0 for 4 with two turnovers. Totaled up, the Bucks forced the Celtics into 1-for-11 shooting with six turnovers.

When the Bucks scored the first four points of the fourth quarter, the run became 28-4.

Eric Bledsoe tallied 21 points for the Bucks, and Brook Lopez and George Hill added 10 each.

Antetokounmpo grabbed 10 rebounds in a strong double-double, but Pat Connaughton actually led the Bucks with 11 boards as Milwaukee won that battle, 54-45. Nikola Mirotic chipped in nine boards. Although Mirotic struggled offensively — he started in place of Sterling Brown — he contributed to the big defensive effort and also added nine rebounds.

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