The Milwaukee Bucks won their fifth game in a row Thursday, beating the Boston Celtics 128-123 at home at Fiserv Forum.
Giannis Antetokounmpo posted his 35th double-double of the season to move ahead of Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond for the league lead.
The Bucks and Celtics have now split their season series after Boston prevailed 116-105 on Oct. 30. The result of their matchup may not have playoff implications, though, since Milwaukee's lead on the Celtics now stands at 8.5 games. Their final two meetings are March 12 and April 5.
The Celtics have dropped five of their last seven games.
Jayson Tatum returned to the lineup after missing the team's 116-103 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, but Jaylen Brown was out due to a thumb injury he suffered in the defeat.
Boston could've used Brown on the perimeter as the Bucks hit the Celtics with a three-point barrage.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Bucks: 32 points (11-22 FG), 17 points, seven assists, two blocks
- Khris Middleton, SF, Bucks: 23 points (8-13 FG; 3-5 3P), six rebounds, four assists, two steals
- Brook Lopez, C, Bucks: 16 points (6-10 FG; 3-5 3P), three rebounds, one assist, four blocks
- Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Bucks: 19 points (6-11 FG; 4-6 3P), three rebounds, one assist, two steals
- Kemba Walker, PG, Celtics: 40 points (14-23 FG; 4-11 3P), 11 rebounds, three assists, one block
- Marcus Smart, PG, Celtics: 24 points (6-15 FG; 5-10 3P), four rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block
Bucks Bench Fends off Boston's 3rd-Quarter Comeback
The Bucks were hitting everything in sight during the first half. They shot 12-of-15 from beyond the arc, which was the second-best percentage in a single half over the last 15 years by a team that attempted at least 15 threes, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Donte DiVincenzo (13 points) was a few buckets away from matching his career high (18) through two quarters.
The Bucks had 76 points by halftime, and their lead swelled to 27 points at one point in the second frame.
Not surprisingly, their red-hot three-point shooting was unsustainable, and their offense fell back to earth in the third quarter. The Celtics capitalized and trimmed the deficit to six points following a long-range effort from Marcus Smart with 5:16 left in the third.
Antetokounmpo headed to the bench after giving Milwaukee an eight-point advantage with 4:18 left on the clock. Rather than falling apart without its best player, the team surged to a 17-6 run to close out the quarter.
This is the blueprint head coach Mike Budenholzer will hope to replicate in the postseason.
Giannis was his usual self, crashing the boards and delivering highlight-reel plays.
The Bucks can only push the reigning MVP so much, though. They'll need the bench to step up too, which is something that didn't happen when it mattered last year.
In its first meeting with Boston, Milwaukee held a 16-point halftime lead before the Celtics outscored them by 20 points in the third quarter to go ahead.
Thursday was looking like a repeat until the Bucks' second unit helped right the ship. Things got a bit dicey toward the end, but Milwaukee may have taken its foot off the gas, knowing its opponent was rapidly running out of time to mount one last rally.
Celtics' Struggles from Deep Continue
A loss to the Bucks isn't necessarily a cause for concern, and the Celtics did well to make this a game after running into a buzzsaw in the first half.
Milwaukee opened by hitting everything in sight. Combine that with a Celtics offense that was dependent largely on Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker, and the results were less than ideal for Boston.
The best way to sum up this game is to say Walker scored 24 points in the second quarter, and the Celtics still got outscored 40-38.
Sometimes, it's just one of those nights.
Having said that, Brown's absence exacerbated what has been a persistent issue for the Celtics. They entered Thursday shooting 35.4 percent on three-pointers, 18th in the NBA. Match Boston up against an elite defensive team with length in a seven-game playoff series and it could be in serious trouble.
Unless president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is holding an ace up his sleeve, there isn't a feasible midseason trade that could drastically reshape the Celtics' roster. And one could argue that isn't necessary anyway.
Ainge would be smart to at least add a veteran shooter or two for the right price in order to get the bench scoring the team sorely lacks.
The Bucks (37-6) have a trip to the Big Apple in store Saturday to play the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics (27-13) begin a three-game homestand Saturday against the Phoenix Suns.