AP NEWS

Bucks pulling away from Celtics thanks to third-quarter spurts

May 8, 2019

MILWAUKEE — Each of the four games in the Milwaukee Bucks’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Celtics has been a single-possession game at halftime, and each of those games has been won by the team that outscored its opponent during the third quarter.

The Bucks lost that battle in the series opener, getting outscored 36-21 in the Celtics’ eventual 112-90 rout but have dominated Boston in the three games since, outscoring the Celtics 112-72 in the third quarter of the past three games — including a 33-23 advantage Monday night in Game 4’s victory.

As a result, the Bucks return to Milwaukee Wednesday night for Game 5 with a 3-1 lead and a chance to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2001.

“We know we have to raise it up a level,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton said ahead of Game 4. “Honestly, we’re probably just not as sharp as we need to be at the start of the game, we’re not as disciplined. But I feel like we’re a rhythm team. We’ve had problems like that all year long where we start slow just trying to figure out the rhythm of the game, trying to get our rhythm going, our flow.”

The Bucks took control of Game 2 with a 24-2 run to close out the third quarter and went on to even the series with a 123-102 victory. A 12-0 spurt late in the third quarter of Game 3 set the stage for a 123-116 victory, and the Bucks took control of the Game 4 when reserves George Hill and Pat Connaughton took over while Giannis Antetokounmpo and Middleton sat on the bench four four fouls apiece. Milwaukee outscored Boston 33-23 in the third as Milwaukee won 113-101 and pushed the Celtics to the brink of elimination.

“I think there’s hopefully a cumulative effect of continual good defense, continual effort, continual pressure offensively and we’re able to maybe just get a break and create some separation,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of his team’s strong starts to the second half during the series.

He acknowledged the appearance of a stark disparity between the Bucks’ two halves in a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon but noted that Milwaukee has performed well in the opening quarters of those games, too.

“We’re coaches, so we’re always trying to find things we can try to do better but the first halves have probably not been as bad as people think or as the score indicates or anything like that,” Budenholzer said. “A lot of good things are happening in the first half. The score might not reflect it but (the first and seconds halves) are very similar in the way the guys have been competing and playing.”

Barkley’s proclamation

After Game 4, former NBA star and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley proclaimed the Bucks would go on to win the NBA championship for the first time since 1971.

Budenholzer was asked about those comments.

“Charles Barkley says lots of wild and crazy things,” quipped Budenholzer. “I love his candor, I love his basketball IQ but at the end of the day, our focus is on Game 5 against the Boston Celtics.

“To think about the end game is not how we work. We just work day to day and try to get better and to improve. We feel like we can compete and play with anybody in the league.”

Brogdon’s status

Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon continues to practice with the team as he works his way back from a torn plantar fascia in his left foot that’s left him sidelined since March 15.

Brogdon was listed as “out” on the league’s injury report Tuesday night but he could still play today. Teams have until an hour before tip-off to finalize their list of active players.

“We’re continuing to assess and evaluate him,” Budenholzer said. “There will be an update Wednesday morning if there are any changes.”

In the paint

Antetokounmpo has averaged 33 points per game in Milwaukee’s three straight wins after struggling in Game 1. ... Celtics guard Kyrie Irving scored 26 points in Game 1. Since then, he is 19-for-62 from the field, going 4 of 20 on 3s.