Man, this Bucks-Celtics series is a hell of a lot of fun. Game 1 was a bonkers overtime affair that featured an insane glut of ballsy shot-making in the final minute of regulation. Games 2 and 3 were mostly wipeouts, but Sunday’s Game 4 had another incredible fourth quarter that came right down to the final possession.
The Bucks held a 16-point lead at halftime, but the Celtics chipped it down to a manageable eight points headed into the fourth quarter, behind superstar-caliber play from Jaylen Brown. The Celtics scored just 35 points in the first half Sunday, but managed 32 points in the third quarter, and erupted for 35 in the fourth, to claw all the way back and make it a one-point game with under a minute left in regulation. With possession of the ball and 10 seconds left on the shot clock, the Celtics put the ball into the hands of rookie Jayson Tatum, to work against Bucks veteran Khris Middleton:
That huge bucket seemed like it might break Milwaukee’s spirits, after spending the previous 23 minutes squandering such a healthy lead. It would be hard to overstate just how choppy and stuck-in-the-mud Milwaukee’s offense was for much of the second half—looking at the box score, it seems impossible to me that they scored 29 points in the fourth quarter—but they managed this beautiful transition sequence when they desperately needed a bucket to salvage their chances, working the ball quickly to Malcolm Brogdon in the corner for a rhythm jumper:
This makes two gigantic clutch buckets in the series for Brogdon: you will remember, it was Brogdon who knocked down a game-tying three-pointer with 10 seconds left in regulation in Game 1. And just like after that big bucket last Sunday, the Celtics had a response at the ready; this time it was Al Horford, blowing past Thon Maker (who was pretty good today!) for a straight-line drive to the cup. Maker fouled Horford on a dunk attempt, and the ball juuuust spun out to set up a couple of free throws, which Horford calmly nailed.
The Bucks used up the full shot clock on the following possession, and engineered a switch to get Brogdon isolated against Horford out on the wing. Brogdon attacked the mismatch and got into the paint, but Horford is an excellent defender, and forced Brogdon into a tough, contested, left-handed floater.
I have not yet mentioned Giannis Antetokounmpo in this blog. Here he was tangled up with Tatum under the basket, jockeying for rebounding position while Brogdon’s floater arced towards the basket and rattled around the rim. Have a look at this heroic, muscular, off-hand play from Giannis, to put the Bucks back on top with just five seconds left in regulation:
On the ensuing inbounds play, following a Celtics timeout, the Bucks switched Giannis onto the inbounder, forcing a tough over-the-top pass to Marcus Morris, fighting Middleton for mid-post position on the weak side of the offense. Morris got a decent, contested turnaround off, but it bounced away harmlessly. Bucks win!
The Bucks go into these awful stretches where they just cannot get anything going offensively without the Celtics first turning the ball over, and it’s extremely hard to shake the idea that if the Celtics were even just a little bit healthier—if they could replace Shane Larkin in the rotation with, say, Marcus Smart, to say nothing of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward—the Bucks wouldn’t be able to keep up. And, hey, look at that, Marcus Smart says he thinks he’ll be available for a Game 6 that just went from hypothetical to eventual.
In the meantime, this series rules. It’s a diminished but relentless and brilliantly coached Celtics team against an awkward and self-sabotaging Bucks team featuring one of the NBA’s genuinely superhuman superstars. And we haven’t even talked about Jabari Parker, who dominated a whole stretch of the second quarter, or Middleton’s steady hand, or Brown’s blossoming offensive game. It’s so much fun. The series heads back to Boston Tuesday night. If we’re very lucky, it’ll go three more games and produce a couple more of these classics.