Middleton gets hot, Bucks bounce back for Game 2 victory
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo attacked the rim, Khris Middleton connected from long range and Eric Bledsoe turned in an effective performance.
The Milwaukee Bucks looked more like themselves in Game 2.
Antetokounmpo had 29 points and 10 rebounds and Middleton made seven of Milwaukee’s franchise playoff-high 20 3-pointers, helping the Bucks even their second-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics with a 123-102 victory Tuesday night.
Antetokounmpo, one of the top candidates for NBA MVP, went 7 for 16 from the floor and 13 of 18 at the foul line. It was an important turnaround for Milwaukee after he had 22 points on 7-for-21 shooting in Game 1 on Sunday.
Middleton finished with 28 points. Bledsoe, who was held to six points in the series opener, finished with 21 points and five assists.
The Bucks led by as many as 31 points after a closely played opening half. Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series is Friday night in Boston.
“I think that’s more what we’re accustomed to seeing,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I liked our spirit, our activity, our competitiveness all up and down the roster. Giannis and Khris and Bled really set a tone.
“We need to capture that, take it to Boston with us and play that way up there.”
Marcus Morris paced Boston with 17 points. Jaylen Brown had 16, and Al Horford finished with 15.
Kyrie Irving, who had 26 points and 11 assists in the Celtics’ 112-90 victory in Game 1, had nine points on 4-of-18 shooting.
“We weren’t very good on either end,” coach Brad Stevens said.
Milwaukee broke it open by outscoring Boston 39-18 in the third quarter. Antetokounmpo scored 15 points in the period, including a 3-pointer over Horford to give the Bucks an 81-71 lead with 5:33 left.
Antetokounmpo tipped in his own miss and made another 3 to help Milwaukee pull away. The Bucks went on a 24-2 run to carry a 98-73 lead into the fourth.
“I think in Game 1 I didn’t do a good job finding my teammates,” Antetokounmpo said. “So of course I wanted to be aggressive, but then you’ve got to make the right plays. At the start of the game tonight, the right play was the pass.”
Irving credited the Bucks’ defensive plan.
“They did a great job of switching tonight and forcing me left,” Irving said. “I started the game off well getting downhill and setting an example for my teammates of how we want to play. I just didn’t put my stamp on that.”
Brook Lopez and George Hill each finished with 10 points for Milwaukee, which went 20 for 47 from beyond the arc. Pat Connaughton grabbed 11 rebounds to help the Bucks to a 54-45 advantage on the glass.
Milwaukee switched on screens more often than usual and held Boston to 39.5% shooting (34 of 86).
“That’s an easy thing for them to adjust to and I thought they did a very good job of it,” Stevens said. “Basically, Giannis and smaller were doing that and they kept Lopez as a protector. They have a lot of defensive versatility. Everybody knew Game 1 was not going to repeat itself.
“They did a good job of owning the space on both ends of the court.”
Middleton went 7 for 10 from deep. He also grabbed seven rebounds.
“I think one of our main things is playing with pace,” he said. “They’re a great defensive team once they get set. So the main thing for us is to try to get a stop and get out and run. And I was able to find open 3s and pull-up 3s with that.”
Celtics: Morris started at forward for the second straight game in the series, with Horford at center. Backup center Aron Baynes was available after twisting his left ankle in Game 1 and played 10 minutes while picking up four fouls. Stevens said Baynes’ role would not change. “He will rotate off Giannis and their other bigs,” Stevens said before the game. … Boston has won five of six playoff series against Milwaukee, including the 1974 NBA Finals. The Celtics won that series in seven games, taking three of the four games played in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee: F Nikola Mirotic was in the starting lineup in place of Sterling Brown, who struggled in Game 1 and also experienced back spasms. Mirotic picked up two quick fouls guarding Jaylen Brown and was replaced by Connaughton with 8:43 left in the opening quarter. Mirotic finished with nine points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes. “He added a physicality; his defense is what stood out to me,” Budenholzer said. “He’s such an incredible shooter. To get him in the game more, to get that 3-point threat out there just makes sense.”
Game 3 is Friday night in Boston.