The Bucks firmly took control of their series with the Celtics, battering them in the paint and winning Game 4 decisively.
After Game 1, it seemed like the Celtics might have found a strategy to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo. Al Horford played fantastic defense and the rest of the team was dialed in, packing the paint and crashing down on his drives. In each game since, Giannis has improved, finding ways to work around Boston’s defense. In Games 2 and 3 he continued to drive aggressively and just got himself to the free throw line. In Game 4, he looked like the MVP force he’s been all season.
Giannis finished with 39 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and 1 block, shooting 15-of-22 from the field. A whopping 26 of his 39 points were scored in the paint. Milwaukee’s outside shooters were ice cold, but so were Boston’s and with Giannis thoroughly outplaying Kyrie Irving, this was a big win for the BUcks.
Boston’s bench was…ugh. Marcus Smart returned to the floor but wasn’t able to give Boston anything on offense. The entire Boston bench combined for 7 points on 3-of-17 from the field for Smart, Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier. That group also managed 4 turnovers to just 2 assists. Milwaukee’s starting five is just too good for the Celtics to win if they’re getting rolled in their bench minutes too.
Kyrie Irving might have been even worse. He finished with 23 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds, but he was 7-of-22 from the field, 1-of-7 on 3-pointers and had 4 turnovers. He was assertive on offense but in all the wrong ways, often attacking aimlessly, trying to involve his teammates but not necessarily hitting them in ideal scoring opportunities. The Celtics needed a signature performance from their best player, both for morale and just to get this all-important win and even the series. What Kyrie did tonight was not that.
Milwaukee is back in the paint. In Game 1, Boston’s ability to pack the pain and make things difficult around the rim for Giannis was a huge advantage. They had a 12-point advantage in the paint, holding Milwaukee to just 26 points in the paint. The Bucks have put up 152 points in the paint over the last three games in the series, and advantage of 48 over Boston. Giannis is running wild and finishing over everyone, the rest of the Bucks are getting out in transition and crashing the glass. The solution Boston seemed to have found has been completely unraveled. In terms of a workable defensive strategy, they’re back to the drawing board, down 3-1.