After a memorable Game 3 that resulted in a narrow in for the Milwaukee Bucks, the Boston Celtics entered Game 4 with significant urgency on Monday. Though the Celtics were on the road, they needed a win to avoid a dreaded 3-1 deficit and, just before tip-off, the word broke that Boston would be without starting center Robert Williams. However, Al Horford turned in a memorable effort and, with the help of a fantastic close from Jayson Tatum, the Celtics earned a 116-108 victory to even the series at 2-2.
The Bucks took control at the outset with the help of a slow start from the Celtics. Boston scored only two points in more than four minutes, opening 1-of-7 from the floor, and Milwaukee took an 8-2 lead.
Shortly after, Tatum injected some life into the Celtics with a massive dunk to stop the early drought.
Still, the Bucks led by as many as 10 points in the opening period and led 25-18 after 12 minutes. Milwaukee shot only 36 percent, but the Bucks had six offensive rebounds to zero for the Celtics. Boston also shot just 36 percent with five turnovers and a scuffling overall offense.
The Celtics did find their footing in the second quarter, using a 16-6 run to take their first lead. That uptick coincided with improved play on both ends, and strong shot-making.
By the halftime break, the Bucks led by one point, and it was a slugfest. In fitting fashion to the series, neither team exceeded ten assists, 40 percent shooting from the floor, or 30 percent from three-point range in the first half. Individually, Giannis Antetokounmpo shot just 6-of-17 from the floor, and Boston’s star duo of Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined to shoot 6-of-18 from the floor.
To begin the third quarter, there were some fireworks. First, Antetokounmpo threw down a monstrous dunk, drawing a controversial technical foul for taunting in the process. Moments later, Horford continued his torrid play with a triple to keep Boston engaged.
The Bucks threw a haymaker midway through the third quarter, though, and it largely came from Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee used a 13-4 run to take an 11-point lead, and the reigning NBA Finals MVP was relentless in taking it to Boston’s defenders.
Boston impressively withstood the onslaught and responded in kind. The Celtics scored 10 straight points between the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, erasing the deficit and tying the game at 80-80 when Horford dunked over Antetokounmpo in head-turning style.
The fourth quarter was an exercise in back-and-forth fireworks. For every Antetokounmpo bucket, there was a response from Horford, including a memorable three-point play to give the Celtics a four-point lead.
From there, Tatum scored on two straight possessions and, in conjunction with a pair of empty trips from Milwaukee, Boston seized control. The Celtics led 106-96 with less than four minutes remaining, putting Milwaukee on its heels.
The Bucks did climb within six on a couple of occasions, but that flurry from Tatum proved to be decisive. The Celtics closed things out with effective offense down the stretch, and that was the theme of the closing period. Boston’s fourth quarter offense was utterly remarkable given the opponent and the stakes, shooting 16-of-19 from the floor, 4-of-5 from three-point range, and 7-of-7 at the free throw line. That included 11-of-12 shooting from Tatum and Horford combined, with that pairing scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter alone.
For Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo and Holiday combined for 50 points on 54 field goal attempts, capping the team’s offensive ceiling. The Bucks also shot just 33 percent from three-point range, but a failure to generate consistent stops in the fourth quarter was perhaps the largest difference.
Horford set a new career playoff high with 30 points on 11-of-14 shooting, including 5-of-7 from three-point range. In addition to eight rebounds in his 42 minutes of on-court action, Horford became the oldest Celtics player to score at least 30 points in a postseason game since 1977, and he turned back the clock at an optimal moment. He was flanked by 30 points and 13 rebounds from Tatum, and the Celtics ended the night shooting 50 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three-point range.
The series will shift back to Boston with sky-high stakes for Game 5 on Wednesday evening. The Celtics will aim to capitalize on what was a fantastic road win in Game 4, while the Bucks will seek a bounce-back victory and a return to defensive dominance.