BOSTON — For the first 47 minutes, 49 seconds of Sunday’s Game 1, the Eastern Conference first-round series between the injury-ravaged Boston Celtics and starless-beyond-the-Greek Freak Milwaukee Bucks was about as unsexy as most anticipated.
There were turnovers — 35 combined — and some painful scoring droughts (the teams will suggest it was “playoff defense”). The Bucks often forgot how to score when Giannis Antetokounmpo went to the bench and a Boston team playing without the services of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart often found that their best offensive option was simply a wild, late-clock isolation by Marcus Morris.
But the final 11 seconds of regulation were a delirious stretch that somehow morphed Sunday’s tilt from a rock fight to an instant classic.
Let’s relive four critical moments through the eyes of the players and coaches involved:
Brogdon makes the Celtics pay
The Celtics were clinging to a 96-93 lead with 15 seconds to go after a pair of Al Horford free throws (he scored 13 of his team-high 24 points at the line), and the Bucks called timeout to draw up a play. Antetokounmpo inbounded, took an immediate hand-back and accelerated down the middle of the floor.
Celtics guard Terry Rozier cheated over to help when Morris was slow to react, but that left Malcolm Brogdon wide open in front of the Boston bench. Celtics coach Brad Stevens’ pained reaction after Brogdon connected told the story of a broken defensive series.
Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks guard: “It was really for Giannis to come off and make a play, find somebody or shoot it. And he found me, so I shot it with confidence.”
Brad Stevens, Celtics head coach: “We could’ve done better. That one we could’ve done better.”
Scary Terry atones
With 11 seconds remaining and the ball, the Celtics elected to take the clock all the way down and tried to spring Jaylen Brown off a stagger screen. Instead, Rozier, the third-year guard starting due to Boston’s injuries, drove when Eric Bledsoe hedged high to close the passing lane to Brown (whom the Bucks had switched on a screen to cover anyhow).
When Bledsoe raced to recover, Rozier stepped back and had all sorts of space behind the arc, drilling the would-be game winner with less than one second remaining.
Terry Rozier puts Eric Bledsoe on skates before pulling up for a wide-open step-back jumper in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
Terry Rozier, Celtics guard: “[Brown] was coming off a stagger, and I gave him a look and I kind of figured that Bledsoe would bite. It kind of allowed me to make a move to get to my step-back [3-pointer]. That was an option for me to shoot, it was an option for Morris to slip to the basket [after screening for Brown]. Just all three options, and I went with mine.”
Jaylen Brown, Celtics guard: “I didn’t even see what happened. [Rozier] did some dribble, behind-the-back crossover. He was wide open. Hell of a move and a hell of a shot.”
Eric Bledsoe, Bucks guard: “I heard a playcall. I was trying to play the stunt, and [Rozier] did a great job of reading it. And he made a big shot.”
Rozier: “I haven’t seen [the play]. I’m looking forward to seeing it, though.”
Middleton with the Hail Mary
Down 99-96 with 0.5 seconds left in regulation, the Bucks didn’t have many options in the catch-and-shoot situation, but the Celtics might have given Milwaukee a bit too much space in hopes of avoiding a bad foul. Despite having all five defenders above the 3-point arc, Antetokounmpo was able to fake rookie Jayson Tatum toward the hoop, then threw a short pass to Middleton, who quickly launched a 35-foot heave over Brown.
It dropped, video review confirmed that Middleton got the shot off in time and Game 1 was headed to overtime.
Khris Middleton shocks TD Garden with a long 3-pointer at the buzzer after Giannis Antetokounmpo quickly finds him on an inbounds pass.
John Henson, Bucks center: “When Rozier hit that 3 [with] 0.5 seconds, everybody was just like, ‘We’re going to have to throw something up.’ Khris got a great shot. We work on stuff like that every day, and it went in.”
Khris Middleton, Bucks forward: “That’s a play we’ve been practicing for a couple weeks now, preparing for that moment. We actually flipped the side of the [floor] we usually run it in practice on. Just got a good look. Giannis was surveying the floor. [I] just tried to get open [and] knew it was at that point where it was a catch-and-shoot situation. So [I thought] if I get it in my hands, just let it go. Somehow it dropped in for me.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks forward: “First of all, before the timeout, I asked Khris if he wants the ball. He said, ‘Yes, give me the ball.’ I was looking at Tony [Snell]. Tony was wide open under the rim, then I looked at Bledsoe, then I looked at Khris again. He was far away, so I thought, ‘I can’t give him the ball, it’s too far,’ but I didn’t have no option. I gave it to Khris, and thank god he knocked the shot down.”
Marcus Morris, Celtics forward: “It happens. I think everybody probably thought the game was over with 0.5 [seconds] left. We guarded the 3-point line, he got a long 3 and made it.”
Brown: “I know Brad was saying just guard the 3-point line but switch on the flares. We’re thinking screens are coming. He shoots it from the hash mark with 0.5 seconds left. That’s a hell of a shot. Take my hat off to him.”
Joe Prunty, Bucks interim head coach: “At the end of the day, we had a couple of things in mind that we needed to look at because of what their defenses are. We went with what we thought was the best. Khris ended up popping to an area that he ended up getting a wide-open look. Great shot by him. Good poise by Giannis to be able to inbound the ball.”
Morris: “Playoffs, man. Crazy stuff happens. I think we all had to take a deep breath like, ‘Damn,’ and be resilient.”
Al Horford, Celtics center: “That’s tough because I thought it was over. Everybody always says play to the last second and everything, but half a second — I figured we were good. As soon as he shot it, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s good.’ I just had a feeling.”
Stevens: “Well, obviously, Middleton made a 30-footer, and you don’t want to foul in that situation, but, you know, we could’ve done better.”
Celtics collect themselves in OT
Middleton’s bomb could have easily taken the wind out of Boston’s sails, especially with Horford, the team’s only healthy All-Star, looking a bit gassed after carrying the Celtics for much of the night. Instead, Horford, who usually defers to big man Aron Baynes on opening tips, won the jump ball against Antetokounmpo to start overtime, and Boston didn’t get down when the Bucks pulled ahead early in the session.
Rozier: “I was mad as hell that [Middleton] made that shot, No. 1. But we knew it’s a battle. It’s the playoffs. It happens. He hit a crazy shot, especially with 0.5 [seconds], so you know that’s tough. Going into overtime, let’s do it. Let’s stay together and let’s win this game. You get to the huddle, and people was upset a little bit because you wanted to go home and wrap up Game 1. But you’re still living in the moment.”
Brogdon: “For me, personally, I tried to stay even-keel. My shot, Khris’ shot, Rozier’s shot, I try not to let any of that affect me. I think Khris’ shot was most noteworthy, since it pushed us into OT. That was a bit more of a high. The moral of the story is we didn’t pull this one out.”
Brown: “We just take a deep breath. Brad said [Middleton’s shot] was good and he got it off [while they were reviewing it]. It was behind us at that point. Now, we got to focus on overtime, and that’s what we did.”
Stevens: “I think you can tell a lot from the fight on the [jump ball to start overtime], and we got the tip after two tips and running through the [defender] to get a loose ball, and that’s when I knew we were reset. You just get back out there and play, you’re ready to play, and I thought our guys — I knew they wouldn’t hang their head about it.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics rookie forward: “We could have easily been deflated at the end of regulation, but we all stood together and we executed. We played really well in overtime.”
Rozier: “You have to fight, and that’s what we did. We had each other’s back, and we never stopped believing that we were going to win, and we did what we have to do in overtime.”
Stevens: “Sometimes I think they’re at their best when those things happen, you know? I think it’s just a resilient group of kids. Not kids, men.”
ESPN’s Nick Friedell contributed to this story.