Triggered by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Al Horford scores playoff career-high 30 points to rescue Boston Celtics in Game 4

MILWAUKEE — Al Horford knew he would get revenge.

After Giannis Antetokounmpo dipped against him in the third quarter early Monday night, the Milwaukee Bucks superstar received a technical foul for saying something in Horford’s direction. As Horford walked back to the pitch, he just nodded his head and said “OK” as he looked in Antetokounmpo’s direction.

“I didn’t understand what he said, but the way he looked at me just didn’t suit me,” Horford said. “That got me further.”

In the next quarter, Horford returned the favor. He caught the ball on the edge and hit Antetokounmpo with a pump fake. Antetokounmpo bit and Horford drove to his right, rising on the sidelines for a slam over the two-time MVP and letting out a huge scream in the process.

It was the turning point Boston needed as they outplayed Milwaukee in a 116-108 Game 4 win at the Fiserv Forum. The series, which is now at 2, returns to Boston on Wednesday night.

Horford pulled a technical foul after his dunk when he accidentally punched Antetokounmpo in the face to celebrate immediately, causing him to scream from sideline to sideline. Milwaukee held a 10-point lead late in the third quarter, but Horford’s slam forcefully put a 10-0 run that put the Celtics back in the game and eventually in control.

“The playoffs are emotional, very intense,” Horford said. “Things didn’t go our way tonight. In the third it was difficult for a while. [Marcus] Smart kept talking in the group and kept telling us to stick with it. Definitely just a lot of emotions at this point. Yes, that was it.”

Smart said the Horford dunk gave the Celtics the emotional boost they needed to get through a hard-fought game.

“It’s a big game at a big moment,” Smart said. “It’s a physical game. We’ve been on the other end a few times, so it kind of felt good to have this one.”

Horford had 16 points and was 6 out of 6 overall in the fourth quarter, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws. He finished with 30 points, a playoff high for the 35-year-old, who was playing in his 132nd career postseason game.

It came after he had 22 points and 16 rebounds in Saturday’s Game 3, a loss Horford and the entire team suffered harder than usual.

“We felt by the end of Game 3 that we were capable of winning the game and we didn’t,” Horford said. “I was just really locked in. I understood the moment and what we needed to do as a group. Just come out and we would do whatever it takes tonight. It was one of those kinds of nights.”

The team followed Horford’s lead in the fourth quarter as they scored 43 points on 16-of-19 shooting to walk away with the win. The 43 points in the fourth quarter was the most in the last quarter in Celtics franchise history (level with Game 5 of the 2001 first round vs the Philadelphia 76ers), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Boston’s 84.2% shot rate was the team’s best percentage in a postseason quarter since at least 1997-98.

The Bucks converted the technical free throw after Horford’s accidental hit on Antetokounmpo, and Horford hit his for the game foul. Milwaukee made the next two baskets to extend the lead, but Horford was back, ending a quick 7-0 run with a 3-pointer.

When the Bucks regained the lead with 6:02 to go with a layup by Antetokounmpo, Horford responded with another 3-pointer to finally put Boston ahead. After giving the Celtics a 95-94 lead, Horford returned to Boston’s next possession with an old-fashioned three-point play to celebrate the Celtics bench even more.

The Celtics rode that wave of emotion to the end, but the dunk really got things rolling.

“That was a hell of a game,” said Jayson Tatum. “Especially every time Al turns back the clock and he looks like the old man, it breaks everybody. Al plays with so much passion. If Al plays so passionately, everyone else has to follow.”

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