Bucks power past Celtics to level playoff series

Antetokounmpo diving for the ball in game two of the Bucks’ playoff series against the Celtics. (AFP pic)

LOS ANGELES: Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks bounced back with a vengeance Tuesday, routing the Boston Celtics 123-102 to knot their NBA playoff series at one game apiece.

The top-seeded Bucks, who fell 112-90 at home to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference series opener, weren’t about to allow a repeat.

Antetokounmpo scored 29 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and Khris Middleton connected on seven of 10 from three-point range on the way to 28 points as the Bucks regained home court advantage in the best-of-seven series.

“We got a beating in game one, so we had to get game two,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s tough when a team comes into your home and gets the two first games so we had that in the back of our minds. We came out, we played hard, we moved the ball, we trusted one another and that’s why we got a win.”

The Bucks drained a club playoff record 20 three-pointers and clamped down defensively, seizing control with 35 points in the third quarter in a game in which they led by as many as 30 points.

Middleton made five of his three-pointers before halftime as Milwaukee took a 59-55 lead into the break.

He added another couple of three-pointers early in the third before Antetokounmpo took charge.

Milwaukee’s Most Valuable Player candidate drove the lane to earn a pair of free-throws, made a three-pointer and then assisted on Ersan Ilyasova’s jump shot.

A tip-in basket and another free-throw from Antetokounmpo added to Milwaukee’s 12-0 scoring run, broken up by a three-pointer from Boston’s Aron Baynes.

Antetokounmpo scored 15 points in the period and the Bucks closed the quarter on a 24-2 scoring run that essentially sealed Boston’s fate.

During that stretch Boston connected on just one of 12 shots from the floor and turned the ball over six times.

Marcus Morris led the Celtics with 17 points as star guard Kyrie Irving was held to nine points – connecting on just four of 18 shots from the field.

Antetokounmpo said the Bucks will need to come up with more of the same when the series shifts to Boston for games three and four on Friday and Monday.

“We’ve just got to pick it up from where we left off this game,” he said.