With All-Star break rust on full display, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks waited until the fourth quarter to make their Thursday night showdown must-watch action, but in the end it was the Bucks that prevailed by a 98-97 final.
That rust really slowed this marquee matchup to a crawl.
After 12 minutes, these rivals combined for just 42 points, and just 100 by halftime.
The third quarter almost set basketball back a billion years, though, as these teams opened up the second half shooting 3-for-22, and totaled just 40 points in all by the end of a groan-heavy third quarter.
But in what finished as a 41-minute night for Kyrie Irving, No. 11 and the Celtics saved their best work for the final minutes of the fourth quarter, as Irving came through with a clutch three, lost and regained a ball for an impressive two, and drew the attention of Milwaukee defenders on every Boston possession.
The Bucks were prepared for Irving’s clutch factor on Boston’s last possession, though, as their stingy defense forced Irving into traffic and into a shot that saw him try and seal the deal on a C’s win with his left (and on a low-percentage look).
Kyrie Irving misses the final shot in the Celtics 98-97 loss to the Bucks (@AAANe_MAnews) #AAANortheast pic.twitter.com/W3UytRB2qb— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 22, 2019
But the final play actually called for Marcus Morris, who finished with makes on four of his 12 attempts, to get a chance to win it for the Celtics.
“I tried to set a good screen [for Morris],” Irving said after the loss. “I don’t know if he got fouled or not.”
(Morris, for what it’s worth, absolutely felt he was fouled and went off on an official as time expired.)
“I don’t know what happened,” said Irving. “And then I had 3.5 [seconds] and tried to make the best play.”
Irving finished the game with 22 points and five helpers.
Elsewhere on the Green’s roster, big man Al Horford put up 21 points and collected 17 rebounds for the Celtics. Horford’s biggest shot came with a minute left in the fourth quarter with a big three dropped, but was essentially canceled out by a Khris Middleton three on the Bucks’ next possession.
Jaylen Brown continued his strong play off the Celtic bench, too, with 15 points behind a six-for-nine night from the floor.
But no player was more impactful than Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the Greek Freak totaled 30 points, hauled in 13 rebounds, and even added six assists in a 36-minute showing for Milwaukee.
Veteran forward Nikola Mirotic, acquired from the Pelicans in a three-way trade earlier this month, made his Bucks debut, and finished with eight points in 13 minutes off the Milwaukee bench.
The Celtics are back at it Saturday night against the Chicago Bulls.