BOSTON (CBS) -- The Celtics bounced back from their first loss of the postseason in a big way Tuesday night, beating the Milwaukee Bucks 109-86 in Game 2 to even their second-round playoff series.
The Celtics got off to a red-hot start in the first half but went cold in the second and had to sweat out their 23-point victory for most of the fourth quarter. But Boston led from start to finish and went on a late 8-0 run to seal the win.
All that really matters is that the series is now all even as it shifts to Milwaukee on Saturday night.
"How you respond is everything in this league," Jaylen Brown said after his monster night. "We couldn't drop another game at home so we knew we had to come out and play like our season was on the line and we did. We fought from the jump and played with aggression, physicality. That's what you need to beat a team like Milwaukee."
Brown led the way, scoring 25 of his 30 points in the first half. When he cooled off a bit, Jayson Tatum took over, scoring 19 of his 29 points in the second half. Grant Williams was excellent on both ends of the floor for the Celtics, scoring 21 points while playing some fantastic lock-down defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Giannis was just 2-for-12 in the first half, though he woke up a bit in the second half to finish with 28 points off 11-for-27 shooting.
The Celtics really upped the physicality after getting bullied in Game 1.
"I didn't love how we didn't react to them being physical," head coach Ime Udoka said after the win. "Our guys took that to heart and we knew we'd come out with the right effort tonight."
Boston's incredible ball movement was also back after it was missing in Game 1 on Sunday, with the Celtics dishing out 28 assists on 38 made baskets.
With Milwaukee once again loading up in the paint, the Celtics made it a point to drive and kick it out to their open shooters on the wing. After starting the game with a pair of midrange jumpers, Boston knocked down three of its first four shots from downtown, jumping out to a 15-3 lead.
Boston was without Marcus Smart, who missed the game with a right quad contusion, but the Celtics defense didn't miss much of a beat. Milwaukee to hit just one of its first 11 shots and Antetokounmpo missed his first six shots, including a pair of forced threes-point bids.
"The mindset and our identity, especially when someone is out, it's the next man up. You have to be ready to fill in and the ship has to keep going," said Tatum. "Everyone has to do a little more and everyone has to fight. That's what we did tonight. Everyone contributed and competed."
The extra pass was once again a deadly weapon for the Celtics with Boston racking up 14 assists on its first 18 baskets.
"It's something we have emphasized for a while; you pass a good shot to get a great shot," Tatum said after the win. "They're a great defensive team so sometimes the first action may not work, and maybe not even the second one. But you have to keep moving the ball and keep driving until you get the bets shot possible."
The Celtics led 31-21 at the end of the first as Brown poured in 17 points off 6-for-7 shooting in the opening frame. The lead was up to 25 at the end of the first half on the 25 points by Brown, with the Celtics dishing out 17 assists on 23 makes. Boston shot 59 percent from the floor and was an incredible 13-for-20 from downtown in the first half.
The Celtics' ball movement went stale in the third quarter and the Bucks trimmed Boston's lead with a 10-0 run midway through the frame, with Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday accounting for all 10 points. Giannis had 18 points in the quarter, and a Holiday 12-footer cut the lead to 72-56 and forced Ime Udoka to call a timeout.
Grant Williams knocked down a wing three after a Brown dunk attempt was blocked, and Tatum followed it with a tough jumper to push Boston's lead back up to 21. The Celtics later turned back-to-back Bucks turnovers into easy buckets, but Milwaukee ended the quarter on a 6-0 run to make it a 83-66 game heading into the final quarter.
Brown hit a three early in the fourth, his first make of the second half, to give Boston an 88-68 lead. It was his sixth three of the game to set a new career-best in the postseason.
But it felt like the Celtics had to hang on for most of the fourth quarter, as they fell into some of their Game 1 ways to close out the game. The ball movement once again disappearing with a lot of ISO ball in the final frame, and Milwaukee cut the lead to 14 on a Grayson Allen driving layup with just over five minutes left. A pair of Giannis free throws made it a 94-82 game with 4:29 to go.
After losing in blowout fashion on Sunday, the Celtics were not going to let another one slip away on Tuesday. When Boston really needed a bucket, Tatum canned a corner three on a nice find from Brown with 4:05 left to push the Celtics lead back up to 15. Brown then answered a pair of Holiday free throws by snagging an offensive board off a Payton Pritchard missed three and turning it into a nice spinning layup.
Tatum sealed the win for the Celtics with a corner three with 2:24 left when he played some give-and-go with Brown, putting Boston up 104-86.
"We were pissed off with how we played last game from top to bottom and we knew that we just had to play better, simple as that," said Tatum. "Every aspect of the game, we just had to play better."
The Celtics ran away with the three-point battle on Tuesday, hitting 20 of their 43 shots from downtown to the Bucks' three makes from distance.
Those 20 makes from three-point range are a postseason record for Boston. Milwaukee dominated in the paint on Tuesday night though, outscoring Boston 54-24.
Game 3 is set for Saturday afternoon at 3:30 in Milwaukee. The Celtics are not anticipating a letdown.
"You got to see what the Celtics are about tonight," Brown said after Game 2. "Game 3 is going to be a dogfight and I wouldn't expect nothing less. It should be fun."
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