The Boston Celtics rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit and pulled back in the final minutes for a 116-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals. The series is now tied 2-2 and will return to Boston for a decisive fifth game on Wednesday night.
For the second game in a row, the Celtics crumbled for a few minutes in the third quarter and had to pull themselves out of a hole. But unlike Game 3, where their comeback was ultimately in vain, they finished the job. They outscored the Bucks 43-28 in the fourth quarter and took the lead for good on a 3-point Al Horford with 5:40 remaining.
It was fitting as Horford played one of the best games of his career. He finished with 30 points on 11 of 14 from the field, eight rebounds and three assists to go along with a stellar defense. Jayson Tatum, meanwhile, rebounded from a brutal Game 3 to register 30 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way in the Bucks’ loss, finishing with 34 points, 18 rebounds and five assists. Brook Lopez had 17 points, while Jrue Holiday added 16 points, seven rebounds and nine assists.
In honor of his first career 30-point playoff game, here are some key takeaways Al Horford took from the game:
1. Horford’s back and forth with Giannis
At the start of the third quarter, Giannis came out in half-transition and launched a ferocious slam on Al Horford. In the aftermath, the Greek Freak had words and emotion for the veteran big man, and was hit with a technical foul for taunting. On the replay, you can see Horford nodding and saying “OK.” It turned out that he was planning his revenge at that time.
“I don’t really know what he told me,” Horford said. “But the way he was looking at me and the way he was going about it really didn’t sit well with me. In that moment, something changed with me.”
A quarter later, Horford had his chance. With just under 10 minutes left in the fourth, Horford rigged the 3-point line and headed for the basket. As Giannis tried to recover, Horford dropped the hammer (and caught Giannis with an inadvertently waved arm, training his own technique). The normally reserved Horford dropped everything, flexing and shouting with his teammates.
“The playoffs are emotional,” Horford said. “They are intense. Tonight things were not going our way. They were tough in third for a while. [Marcus] Smart kept talking in the caucuses. I kept telling us to stick with it. Definitely just a lot of emotions in that moment, and that’s what it was.”
2. Horford’s slam energizes his teammates
Horford is the veteran of this Celtics team and is often seen as a calming presence – someone who’s been through it all and can help the team stay balanced through tough times. And he did at various times early in the game on Monday night. But over time, he also played a very different role emotionally.
When Horford put Giannis on a poster, it wasn’t just an amazing moment; it was an emotional lift for a team that had struggled to get things done for nearly two full games in Milwaukee.
“A big game, obviously very emotional,” Horford said. I think for our group, it really pushed us forward even more. … There is not much to say. It’s a bit contagious. Everyone feels it. I feel like that motivates everyone. When one of us has one of these types of games. At that point, you just want it to go on.”
While the Celtics had already fought back – once the free throws were settled, this game tied the game at 81-81 – they now had the energy to close the show. From that point on, the Celtics outscored the Bucks 35-27 and seemed like the fresher team.
“A great game, a great moment in a physical game,” said Marcus Smart. “We’ve been to the other end of those a few times, so it felt good to have that one. Al still has it. We weren’t surprised, but we were pleased. We had some We felt it Everyone The energy changed once it happened from Al.
3. Horford and the Celtics take advantage of the Bucks’ defensive scheme
The Bucks’ rim protection has been talked about a lot in this series, and for good reason. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez are perhaps the league’s toughest inside tandem, and together they’ve limited the Celtics to 124 paint points in the entire series.
That’s impressive, but to keep the Celtics out of the paint, the Bucks concede 3-point shots. In Game 2, the Celtics took full advantage, knocking down 20 3s en route to a blowout victory. After cooling off in Game 3, the Celtics found their form behind the arc. They went 14 of 37, good for 37.8%.
Horford made five, going 5 of 7 for his best 3-point shooting game of the season. It was the first time he had five 3s in a game since last January, and it came at a perfect time for the Celtics.
“Al, it’s like I said, we know we can give him a certain shot every time,” Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said. “I told him to be extremely aggressive. … It’s all series. They keep it in a specific way. Every time you have Lopez that far back, you can literally run a pick-and-pop at any moment and get a wide open 3 at least.”
The Celtics did a lot of pick-and-pop, but they also used other tactics to get open eyes on Horford. Sometimes he would spot in the corner — “we like to hide him in certain areas of the pitch,” Udoka explained — forcing Lopez into a no-win situation. If Lopez stayed tied to Horford, it would open the rim, and if he went to protect the rim, it would open Horford.
Horford shot a perfect 6 of 6 from the field in the fourth quarter, and that triple put the Celtics ahead for good.