3-point shooting the difference as Celtics oust Bucks

- Jeff Zillgitt

For the fourth consecutiv­e season, the NBA will have a different champion.

In a grueling seven-game series between Milwaukee and Boston, the Celtics emerged victorious. Boston defeated Milwaukee 109-81 on Sunday, marking the first time a team has won consecutiv­e games in this series. Boston avoided eliminatio­n in Game 6 on the road and then knocked off the defending champs.

The Celtics will play the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, starting with Game 1 Tuesday in Miami (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The stars came to play with their seasons on the line.

Bucks All-NBA forward Giannis Antetokoun­mpo had 25 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists, and Boston’s Jaylen Brown had 19 points, eight rebounds and two steals, and Jayson Tatum had 23 points. Marcus Smart added 11 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds

for Boston.

3s hurt Bucks again

The Celtics outscored the Bucks 51-21 on 3-pointers in Game 6 on Friday, and they outscored them 66-12 in Game 7 on Sunday – an 84-point difference over two games.

Milwaukee shot 21.1% (4-for-33) on 3s and made just one in the second half as Boston pulled away. Wesley Matthews, Grayson Allen, Jrue Holiday and Pat Connaughto­n were a combined 0for-18 from that range.

In the final two games of the series, the Bucks shot 11-for-62 on 3s and the Celtics 39-for-98.

No matter how the series is framed, it’s hard to beat a quality team in the second round shooting like that from 3.

Grant Williams makes Bucks pay

The Bucks are known for allowing 3s, and they made a conscious decision to let Boston forward Grant Williams shoot them. He struggled at times in this series, including 2-for-14 in Games 3, 4, 5, and 6, but he but made 7-for-18 when needed in Game 7. Williams finished with a game-high 27 points.

Antetokoun­mpo came to play

Win or lose, Antetokoun­mpo wasn’t playing Game 7 without a complete performanc­e. He scored or assisted on 24 of the Bucks’ 26 points in the first quarter, including the first 17.

Antetokoun­mpo had 10 points, eight rebounds, six assists in the first quarter. He nearly had a triple-double: 25 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists, plus two steals and a block.

However, he struggled with his shots, making just 10-for-26 from the field and missing some interior shots that he usually makes. Give the Celtics credit. They made it tough on him the entire series.

Tatum stellar again

Tatum followed up his 46-point performanc­e in Game 6 with 23 points, eight assists, six rebounds and a block. He took just 14 shots, a sign of the growth in his game. Tatum didn’t try to force his offense and he looked for others as the Bucks focused much of their defense on him. He will need that same kind of production, patience and focus against the Heat.

No Middleton hurt Bucks

It was clear throughout the series, and especially the final two games – both Celtics victories – that Milwaukee sorely missed Khris Middleton, who didn’t play because of a sprained left knee. Milwaukee struggled to generate offense outside of Antetokoun­mpo, and Middleton would have helped. He was a 20-point per game scorer in the regular season, able to knock down 3s and midrange shots. Without Middleton, just three Bucks (Antetokoun­mpo, Jrue Holiday and Pat Connaughto­n) averaged in double figures, and Milwaukee’s starters were outscored 86-65 by Boston’s starters.

What’s next for the Celtics

Boston won the season series 2-1 against Heat, taking the first two games (Nov. 4, Jan. 31) and losing the final one (March 30).

Though Miami is the top seed and has home-court advantage, the Celtics may end up the favorites to win the series. Boston finished two games behind Miami in the East but had a better record than the Heat from Jan. 1 through the end of the regular season.

 ?? WINSLOW TOWNSON/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Jaylen Brown, left, and Jayson Tatum celebrate as the Celtics wrap up their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
WINSLOW TOWNSON/USA TODAY SPORTS Jaylen Brown, left, and Jayson Tatum celebrate as the Celtics wrap up their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

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