MILWAUKEE – With the series tied at one game apiece and its defensive backbone on the bench, who does Boston turn to?
Of course, A Horford.Because of a 35-year-old ex-All-Star acquired last summer for a broken point guard and a mid-first-round selection, the Celtics are still alive in this second-round series. Who knew that when Brad Stevens traded Kemba Walker and Boston’s 21st pick for Horford as one of his first acts as president of basketball operations, Boston’s title aspirations were on the line?
No, I didn’t. You, too, did not.
Horford has 132 postseason games under his belt. Few were as good as this one. None, arguably, had a greater impact.
Horford scored a postseason career-high 30 points in 42 minutes, including 16 in the fourth quarter. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer remarked, “He made big shots.” Mike Gorman, the Celtics’ radio voice for over four decades, tweeted that a Celtics player had a top-three fourth-quarter performance.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the team with 34 points. To acquire them, he had to take 32 shots against the Horford-led defense.
“We really needed him to stand up with guys being out,” Ime Udoka said. “He carried it on his shoulders.”
This isn’t part of any series. It’s a brawl on the streets. In basketball footwear, it’s a wrestling bout. In Game 4, there were 42 fouls called. It was possible that there were 82. Elbows were flying.
Also forearms. Marcus Smart accused Antetokounmpo of kicking him after the game. On practically every possession, bodies hit the ground. Fiserv Forum resembled Lambeau Field in appearance.”Everyone is battling,” Smart added. “You’ve got the best players involved.”
For a moment, it appeared as though the Bucks might prevail. At halftime, it was a one-point contest. The Celtics, on the other hand, came out of the locker room flat for the second straight game.
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Antetokounmpo scored a game-high 13 points. Boston shot 40 percent from the field on offense. Milwaukee extended its advantage to 11 late in the game.The edge was seven to start the fourth, and the Celtics looked in trouble.
Then there was Horford. Horford’s brilliance was overlooked in the Celtics’ Game 3 loss. In 39 minutes, he scored 22 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. In the fourth quarter, his game-tying tip-in was a fraction of a second too late.
Although Boston’s ferocious fourth-quarter comeback fell short, it provided motivation for Game 4. “We were all pretty pissed at the manner we lost the last game,” Udoka said.
Horford was fired up. It’s been that way all season. Horford resurfaced last year in Oklahoma City following a terrible 2019-20 season in Philadelphia. His three-point shooting has become better.
Horford worked with the Thunder medical staff to get his body in shape. Oklahoma City’s choice to bench Horford in the middle of the season was calculated.Oklahoma City’s decision to shut Horford down at midseason was strategic for the Thunder but playing just 28 games last season, Celtics team officials say, has likely benefited Horford in this one.
When the Thunder received offers for Horford, though, no one was interested. Not unless he’s accompanied by an asset from Oklahoma City. Boston came calling, led by Stevens, who coached Horford for three seasons. The Celtics wanted Horford, and they were willing to part with a first-round choice to do it.
Horford averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds in 69 games, providing senior leadership that Boston desperately needed. Smart described him as “one of the best vets we’ve ever had.” “The best veterinarian I’ve ever known.”
Horford was given a boost for Game 4. Horford remarked, “These are the moments I want to be a part of.” If Antetokounmpo needed more motivation, he got it in the second quarter, when he frowned at Horford after a dunk and was called for it.
Horford nodded quietly as he walked to the opposite end of the court. He was enraged on the inside. “I couldn’t understand what he said, but the way he stared at me bothered me,” “Horford stated. “That sparked my interest.”
Horford returned the favor early in the fourth quarter, dunking on Antetokounmpo and catching the ex-MVP with an errant forearm on the way down.
He connected on all six of his attempts. He made a pair of three-pointers. He had a plus-17 fourth period and a game-high plus-20 overall.
“It meant a lot to us,” Smart added. “With him, nothing ever changes. He’ll be himself whether things go well or badly.”
Horford received assistance down the stretch. Through three quarters, Jayson Tatum had 18 points. He took 18 shots to acquire them, though. In the first half, he did not have an assist.
He made two trips to the free throw line. Throughout the series, Milwaukee’s physical defense, led by Jrue Holiday, has bothered him. Tatum, on the other hand, persisted. In the fourth quarter, he scored 12 points on five of his six shots. He selected a few.He handed out two assists. As Giannis tired, Tatum got going, punctuated by a 27-footer that gave Boston its first double-digit lead.
“In Game 3, I was dreadful,” Tatum said. “All I wanted to do was play.” I just wanted to play better, whether I was scoring or not. You know, play better basketball?”
Now it’s a war of attrition. “It’s the playoffs,” Budenholzer explained. “That’s how things are supposed to be.” With Khris Middleton out, Antetokounmpo has been a one-man show offensively. He looked tired in the fourth quarter on Monday. Holiday went 5-22 in Game 4 after taking 30 shots in Game 3. The Bucks will need someone to relieve Antetokounmpo of offensive pressure as the series returns to Boston. “No one promised it would be easy,”
Antetokounmpo remarked. “We have to go to Boston and play excellent basketball.”
“I played terrible in Game 3,” Tatum said. “I was just ready to play. Whether it was scoring or not,
Indeed. Although Boston restored home-court advantage, the Bucks have shown they can win on the road. The Celtics, however, are equally exhausted and even more battered. Robert Williams, who recovered from knee surgery in March faster than expected, sat out Game 4 due to knee pain. When he will return is unknown. The Bucks must believe they can still win this series as it nears its conclusion.
“It wasn’t our game,” Antetokounmpo explained. “Today was their game.” You must bow your head and be prepared for Game 5.”
This information was obtained from our correspondents and various web sources.
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