It was a night the Celts could have folded their green tent and squeezed home, 3-1. They were without Robert Williams due to knee irritation. They were trailing in double digits in the second half. Everyone seemed to be in big trouble when they started the fourth quarter, and superstar Jayson Tatum was still in a shooting slump.
Only six Boston players managed to score on that crucial night, and at times it seemed like the whole of Boston was ready to give up and try to feel better by complaining about the refereeing.
Then something happened. Everything happened. Al Horford has performed – in Joe Hardy, Damn Yankees, Faustian bargain fads.
Don’t-Call-Me-Average Al dunked Giannis Antetokounmpo, flexed his veteran muscle and burst for 16 points in the fourth quarter, making all six of his shots and practically stomping on the Bucks logo. Horford finished with 30 points and eight rebounds.
“We love Al,” Marcus Smart said. “He’s the best veteran we’ve ever had. He understands what he brings to this game and what he brings to this team.
Remember how some of us laughed when Brad Stevens bought out Horford in the offseason? It’s the same feeling we had when Chaim Bloom came out and picked up JBJ last winter.
No one is laughing now.
Horford was provoked when Giannis dived and said something to him early in the third, with the Bucks leading by 6. The Greek Freak took a technical for his problem, and Horford looked particularly annoyed.
“That’s where the Bucks [expletive] at the top,” tweeted Anna Horford, the sister of Al. “I know that look. He was furious.
“I didn’t understand what he said,” the humble Horford admitted after the game, “but the way he looked at me didn’t suit me. It got me going. At that point , something has changed with me.
In the already famous fourth, Horford posted Giannis with a dunk to tie the game, 80-80. Big Al drew a well-deserved technique for his antics, but no one cared. The momentum had changed and the Celtics were racing to victory.
“It was a big game, obviously,” Horford said. “Moving for our group. Lots of emotions at that time.
Horford’s winger in the fourth quarter was the aforementioned Tatum, who was 6 for 18 before the quarter but finally got comfortable after three and three quarters. Tatum woke up and poured beer over the head of the deer that made Milwaukee famous.
Boston went an incredible 16 of 19 from the floor and 4 of 5 from international waters in the fourth quarter, outscoring the staggering Bucks, 43-28. The Champs have been reduced to the proverbial deer in the headlights. The Bucks looked old. Giannis (34 points on 14 of 32 shooting) looked tired.
Not sure there’s ever been anything like that. Probably not in the days of Russell-Cousy. Maybe once or twice in the Larry-Kevin-Chief days. Certainly not in the days of KG-Pierce-Allen. Red Auerbach must have loved it from his highest perch above the pitch.
Going into the night, the Celtics must have been thinking “must win”. Given this obvious fact, it’s hard to overstate how flat they were at first. None of the energy from Saturday’s final quarter was retained and Boston fell behind, 21-11, in the first nine minutes.
Tatum, who shot just 35 percent (20 for 57) in Games 1-3, was 3 of 8 in the first half. He took just three shots in the first quarter – Daniel “Let it rain!” Theis took four! – and was scored with two offensive fouls as Milwaukee led, 25-18, after one.
If Dennis Eckersley had been in Brewtown, he would have said, “Yuck. It was as if the Celts were preparing by studying the game movie of their dark December days.
It improved in the second as Horford and Jaylen Brown scored freely and the Celts beefed up their defense, but the Bucks still led, 48-47, at intermission. Milwaukee pushed the lead to 11 with 3:13 left in the third, and the Celtics were complaining a lot about the zebras.
But the last quarter was all Boston. In a somewhat historical way.
Playing for their lives in the playoffs, the Celtics gutted the Bucks. It was a near-perfect basketball quarterback, something we may not have seen since Larry & Co. played a near-perfect game against the Hawks in the 1986 Spring Playoffs.
See you on Wednesday.
The Celtic Revolution will be televised.