Horford’s Heroic 4th Quarter Not Enough, as C’s Fall Short in Game 3

After trailing the Milwaukee Bucks by 13 points entering the fourth quarter of Game 3 Sunday afternoon, Al Horford breathed extra life into the Boston Celtics, leading them on a furious crunch-time rally on the road.

The 35-year-old veteran big man poured in 12 of his 22 points in the final frame, during which the C’s stormed back to take a one-point advantage. However, after the Bucks retook the lead in the final minute and Boston couldn’t get back over the hump, as a last-second, game-tying putback tip-in left Horford’s fingertips just after the final buzzer, resulting in a 103-101 loss at Fiserv Forum and a 2-1 series lead for the Bucks.

“Al played exceptionally well in the fourth, made some tough shots, had some great looks for us,” said Jaylen Brown, who logged a team-high 27 points along with 12 rebounds and four assists. “We had a lot of great looks tonight that didn’t go down, but we still had every opportunity to win this game in the fourth quarter. We just came up a little short.”

Boston would have come up quite a bit short if Horford hadn’t caught fire in the middle of the quarter. He scored seven straight Celtics points over a 71-second span, which allowed them to pull within two points of the Bucks at the 4:10 mark.

Horford finished with a monster double-double of 22 points and 15 rebounds to go along with five assists and two blocks, marking the first time in his postseason career that he reached those thresholds all in the same game. He also became just the second player in NBA postseason history to hit those marks at age 35 or older, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. On top of that, it was his second 20-point, 15-rebound effort in seven games this postseason.

Unfortunately, the lasting memory from this game will be the series of desperate put-back attempts that didn’t go Boston’s way.

Milwaukee had taken a 103-100 lead with 11.2 seconds left before the Celtics called a timeout to draw up one last play. With 4.6 seconds remaining, Marcus Smart was fouled by Jrue Holiday while seemingly rising up for a game-tying 3-pointer. However, the referees determined that Smart had not yet reached his shooting motion, which left him with just two free throws – since the Celtics were in the bonus – instead of three.

Smart made the first free throw before intentionally missing the second, which worked out in his favor since he was able to fly in and corral his own rebound. While falling to the floor, Smart heaved up a shot that glanced off the rim, which was the first of several unsuccessful put-back attempts. Rob Williams and Horford missed consecutive tips before Horford finally got one to fall; however, it was released just a fraction of a second too late, so it was already game over.

“Smart timed it perfectly, was able to get the rebound and at that point, it was just hanging around the rim,” Horford recalled of the final play. “We feel like we had some good looks there, and then I think I tipped it once, missed it, the second time I knew I was slightly off, so I wasn’t very optimistic about it and obviously I was a little late. But we gave ourselves a chance there to tie and send it to overtime.”

The fact that Boston gave itself a chance was remarkable in itself. Not many teams have the poise to storm back from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit on the road against the defending champs, but the Celtics did just that before ultimately falling short.

Although it was a disappointing finish, Udoka’s message to the team was to harness that fourth-quarter energy and carry it into Game 4 Monday night. “What I said back to the group: we didn't play great offensively in the first half at all. We defended at a high level to keep them to 46, but only had 50 ourselves. We weren't as sharp as we needed to be offensively. But after a poor third quarter on both ends, that we could rally back, the message is to continue to guard the way we have, other than that third quarter, and then get our offense clicking a little bit more.”

Horford had the offense clicking late, while nearly leading the Celtics to a miraculous come-from-behind win. Although it wasn’t the finish they were hoping for, the final frame contained exactly the type of tenacity that they they’ll need to maintain against this Bucks team in order to tie the series up before bringing it back home to Boston.

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