TD Garden was shaking and roaring for the better part of two and a half hours Wednesday as the Celtics soared to a 14-point fourth-quarter lead against the Bucks. But when it ended, there was just stunned silence, as Jrue Holiday came up with a steal on the final possession and finished off Milwaukee’s improbable 110-107 win in Game 5 of these conference semifinals.
The Bucks hold a 3-2 series lead and will have a chance to win it in Game 6 in Milwaukee on Friday night. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 40 points and 11 rebounds for Milwaukee. Jayson Tatum led Boston with 34 points.
The Celtics took a 93-79 lead on a Payton Pritchard fadeaway in the lane with 10:16 left. The Garden was buzzing and the Bucks appeared on the edge of folding, but they bounced back instead, using a 20-8 run to pull within 101-99 on a Holiday 19-footer with 4:09 left.
The Celtics punched back, as Jaylen Brown missed a jumper and Al Horford, the star of Game 4, soared into the lane and threw down a powerful two-handed dunk to stretch the lead back to 105-99.
But Milwaukee caused problems with its offensive rebounding throughout the night, and Antetokounmpo converted a second-chance 3-pointer with 1:40 left, and after a Tatum miss, Holiday hit one from the top of the key to tie the score at 105 with 43 seconds to play.
The Celtics attacked quickly to get a two-for-one chance, with Tatum drawing a foul and hitting both free throws. Antetokounpo was fouled on the other end and he hit the first free throw but missed the second. But Bobby Portis grabbed the offensive rebound and converted the putback with 11.4 seconds to play.
After a timeout, Marcus Smart drove along the right baseline but Holiday swallowed up the ball and it went out of bounds off of Smart. The Celtics fouled Pat Connaughton with 5.9 seconds left. He hit both free throws and the Celtics were out of timeouts, so they had to go the distance. The Bucks applied full-court pressure and Holiday swooped in for the steal, and time ran out.
Observations from the game:
• Horford received a rousing ovation during pregame introductions, some audible appreciation for his Game 4 effort. Then he mostly picked up where he left off, instantly drilling a 15-footer before holding his ground against Antetokounmpo in the post and coming up with a strip. But this time he had some help in the frontcourt. Daniel Theis, who was 0 for 6 in Game 4, made all three of his first-quarter shots, including a powerful alley-oop dunk. The Celtics’ 3-pointers were not falling, so the work of Horford and Theis inside was key.
• The Bucks have been terrible from beyond the arc in this series, but one outlier can shift the entire tenor, and when the Bucks started the game by connecting on 3 of 4 3-pointers, it appeared that perhaps this would be their one scorching night. But that burst fizzled quickly. Milwaukee was just 1 for 12 from the arc over the rest of the half, and a good number of the attempts were tough, contested looks.
• Antetokounmpo played 41 minutes in Game 4 and appeared completely gassed by the end. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer appeared focused on limiting his time just a bit when he took him out midway through the second quarter, his second break of the first half. But less than two minutes later the Celtics had seized control with a 7-0 run. Without Khris Middleton, there’s just too much on Antetokounmpo’s shoulders in this series.
•The Bucks have done most of their damage in this series in transition. Celtics coach Ime Udoka has said that his team needs to cut down on turnovers that ignite those chances, and Boston did an excellent job of that in the first half Wednesday. The Celtics committed just two turnovers, leading to two fast-break points.
• Derrick White’s confidence seems to be growing by the game, and that’s a great thing for the Celtics. He’s shot the ball well in this series, and in the first half he provided a jolt in every way imaginable. He glided to the rim for layups, drilled a 3-pointer, tossed the alley-oop to Theis, and even swatted Jrue Holiday at the rim. Theis and White combined to go 8 for 8 from the field in the first half.
• The Celtics had to feel pretty good about holding a 54-47 halftime lead despite the fact that Tatum and Brown combined to make 8 of 23 shots and 3 of 14 3-pointers in the first half. The duo tried to deliver a knockout punch at the start, taking seven total 3-pointers in the first five minutes.
• The Bucks trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half but pulled within 60-59 on a Brook Lopez jumper with 7:36 left. It was clear that the Celtics needed more from either Tatum or Brown, and Brown was up for the challenge. He poured in 16 points during a dominant third quarter, with each shot seemingly more difficult than the one that preceded it. He’s so dangerous getting to the rim that opponents have to respect that, and he’s really become dangerous when he rises quickly for perimeter jumpers when defenses are worried about something else. The Celtics took an 86-77 lead to the fourth quarter.
• Former Celtics two-way contract player Tacko Fall, who remains close friends with several members of this team, had a front row seat behind the basket closest to Boston’s bench. He was shown on the video board twice in the first half and received raucous ovations each time. It was a little awkward that he received that reaction while Leon Powe, a member of the 2007-08 title time, sat next to him mostly out of the frame.