MILWAUKEE — On Friday, Avery Bradley played the hero for the Celtics. On Tuesday, well . . .
After a valiant comeback from 19 points down, Boston was on the verge of forcing overtime. But Bradley reached in and fouled Khris Middleton on an inbounds pass 22 feet from the basket with 0.6 seconds left, and Middleton sank one free throw to give the Bucks a 112-111 win at BMO Bradley Center.
The foul was tough to explain for Bradley, who sank the winning 3-pointer in Friday’s dramatic comeback win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Middleton caught Giannis Antetokounmpo’s bounce pass and Marcus Smart and Bradley converged.
Smart leaped behind Middleton and Bradley reached in and made contact.
“Last play, I think I was a little too aggressive,” Bradley said. “The ref made a great call and [Middleton] knocked down a big free throw, all credit to them. Me personally, I don’t think it’s that one play that determined the game. They made big shots when they needed to.”
But the Celtics would have preferred the Bucks make one more difficult shot. Instead, the Celtics have to ponder what could have been if they forced overtime — with all the momentum.
If Bradley allows Middleton to catch the ball without contact, he would have had to sink a turnaround 20-footer with 0.6 left.
“Just fouled him,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “Just one of those instinctual things and it doesn’t go our way.”
The Celtics trailed, 93-74, after the third quarter and looked cooked, but they chipped away until Jae Crowder tied the game at 109 with a 3-pointer with 23.9 left. Greg Monroe, who dominated the Celtics again, put Milwaukee ahead with a hook shot with one second left. Monroe finished with 29 points.
The teams then engaged in a bizarre sequence over 0.4 seconds.
On Boston’s inbounds attempt at halfcourt, former Celtic Jerryd Bayless pushed Kelly Olynyk in the back and was whistled for a foul. Olynyk sank both free throws for 111-111 tie with one second still remaining.
Then, Bradley fouled on Milwaukee’s possession leading to Middleton’s game-winning free throw.
However, it was Monroe’s complete mastery of the paint — 13 of 21 shooting with 12 rebounds and 3 assists — that led to this defeat. The Celtics tried single coverage and Monroe used his crafty moves to attack the rim.
On double teams, he either split the defenders and scored, drew a foul, or found the open shooter.
“I’m just making the right play,” Monroe said. “I knew they were double-teaming me and everybody else in the post was aware of that. Everybody was moving, getting to the spots that we work off.”
He scored 12 of Milwaukee’s 40 points in the third quarter as the Bucks made 15 of 20 shots.
The Celtics looked disheveled through three quarters. But they flipped a switch in the fourth, when they shot 52 percent, made four 3-pointers, outrebounded Milwaukee, 14-5, and committed no turnovers.
They turned a 19-point deficit into a tie with less than 30 seconds left. It was almost good enough to steal another win. Almost.
“Gotta chip away, make it a game within a game at that point,” Crowder said. “We were telling ourselves we’ve got to get it down under 10. Once we get down under 10, it’s a game. We had a game plan probably about the eight-minute mark of the fourth.”
The Celtics’ four-game winning streak was snapped. Bradley and Crowder each scored 18 points and Olynyk added 15, but the Celtics will ponder their porous defense on Monroe and Bradley’s overaggression, which cost them overtime.
The Celtics, who committed 24 turnovers in Sunday’s win over Sacramento, continued that disturbing trend with 18 on Tuesday. They had no flow offensively as the Bucks challenged every shot at the basket and chased shooters away from the 3-point line.
Isaiah Thomas was dwarfed by Milwaukee’s size and reduced to just 15 points on just nine shot attempts in 30 minutes. With their scoring leader neutralized and the bench struggling, the Celtics had little response for the surging Bucks until the fourth quarter.
What appeared to be a game the Celtics would dominate quickly turned when they were unable to get consistent defensive stops in the first half. Crowder ended the first half with a 3-pointer, which gave Boston a 54-53 lead. But the Celtics were lucky to be ahead.
They scored the first 5 points of the third quarter but Milwaukee countered with a 14-2 run and never trailed again. The Bucks shot 51.1 percent and coach Jason Kidd’s decision to bring Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams off the bench proved brilliant.
Monroe maneuvered his way around the hoop against single coverage, getting his choice of shots at the rim, for 15 first-half points. Carter-Williams added 9 first-half points in 12 minutes on 4-for-5 shooting.
It was not a first half to be proud of for Stevens, whose defense has struggled of late, especially in the interior. DeMarcus Cousins scored 31 points for Sacramento on Sunday and Monroe, one of league’s few traditional post scorers, had his way Tuesday.
“In the first half, it wasn’t quite as obvious,” Stevens said. “In the second half it became a real problem. We tried to trap from the baseline. We tried to trap from the middle. He played a great game. Monroe was the difference in the game.”