EditorsNote: adds Horford quote in 17th paragraph
Horford, Irving boost Celtics past Bucks
MILWAUKEE — Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury may have been a hiccup, but the Boston Celtics are starting to find their groove.
Al Horford scored 27 points and Kyrie Irving added 24 as the Celtics extended their winning streak to three games with a 96-89 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night at the Milwaukee Arena.
Horford and Irving combined to shoot 21-for-32 from the floor, including 6-for-9 on 3-point attempts, but the rest of the Celtics’ offense struggled. Boston shot just 42.3 percent overall.
“The (Bucks are a) team that, they’re just different the way they defend,” Horford said. “The things they make you do, they really make you think ... and I was just taking the shots they were giving me.”
Horford spent a majority of the game matched up with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the defensive end of the court.
Antetokounmpo came into the game leading the NBA in scoring at 36.5 points per game but was held below 30 points for the first time this season, finishing with 28 points.
“They packed the paint and made it extremely tough on Giannis,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “He had some great looks, he found some teammates, he did what he was supposed to do.”
Antetokounmpo added 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals while hitting 10 of 21 shots from the field.
“He wills his way to the paint, and the big challenge for me was try to keep him in front and to stay between him and the basket and make him shoot over me,” Horford said. “And I did the best that I could with that, just to make sure that I contested those shots near the basket. We had some mistakes there, but we felt like we did a good job on him.”
Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon added 15 points apiece as Milwaukee shot 45.5 percent, including an 11-for-25 mark from long distance.
“We had some good looks,” Kidd said. “I thought we just over-dribbled. The ball didn’t move tonight as it has in the first couple of games. It’s a great lesson learned. We got some good looks, but when the ball did move, it wasn’t a pretty game to watch.”
The Bucks (3-2) struggled from the free-throw line, making only eight of 14 attempts.
Antetokounmpo managed just four points in the opening quarter as Boston led by as many as 10.
The Celtics (3-2) missed their first seven shots of the second quarter, and Brogdon’s driving layup tied the game at 39 with 3:41 left in the half.
Antetokounmpo’s dunk with 25.1 seconds left sent Milwaukee into the break with a 44-43 lead.
Boston knocked down five 3-pointers in the third and took a 72-69 lead into the fourth after Horford drained a 10-footer as time expired.
“I’ve really got to give all the credit to Marcus Smart on that,” Horford said. “He just sees the game in ways that a lot of time we don’t even see it. He recognized that my guy was kind of falling asleep on the weak side, so he just told me, ‘I’m going to screen for you, you just run off and shoot the corner three.’ He got me open there, back-to-back threes, and I felt like that was a big turning point in the game.”
Smart hit a pair of 3-pointers midway through the final period to give the Celtics an 82-72 lead. Tony Snell responded with back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the Bucks’ deficit to five with 5:51 to play.
With 5:26 remaining, Irving fed Horford for another 3-pointer to put Boston back up by nine. The Bucks never got closer than five the rest of the way.
As part of the Bucks 50th anniversary season, the game was played across the street from the Bucks’ current home, the Bradley Center, in the venue they used from their 1968 inception through the 1987-88 season. The team posted a 992-648 (.605) home record at the Milwaukee Arena. The court Thursday was a replica of the multi-colored court designed by pop artist Robert Indiana before the 1977 season.
NOTES: G Malcolm Brogdon returned to the Bucks’ starting lineup after sitting out a game with a sprained left ankle and finished with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists. ... Boston took a 108-100 loss to the Bucks in its home opener, but the Celtics have won seven of the last 12 meetings, including five of the past six contests in Milwaukee. ... G Kyrie Irving has scored 20 points in three of Boston’s five games this season.