BOSTON – In a season when very little has gone according to script, a likely game-winner in regulation for the Boston Celtics was not to be after the Milwaukee Bucks – with only 0.5 seconds to play – got a desperation heave that tied things up to force overtime.
It was only fitting that the Celtics would open the postseason with a game in which victory was in hand, then lost, and then recovered as Terry Rozier iced the 113-107 victory by making three free throws in the final 13 seconds of overtime.
Rozier (23 points) was one of five double-figure scorers for Boston, led by Al Horford’s double-double of 24 points and 12 rebounds.
Boston now leads Milwaukee 1-0 in their best-of-seven series with Game 2 at the TD Garden on Tuesday.
The Celtics felt they had the game won after Rozier drained a go-ahead 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds to play in regulation that gave Boston a 99-96 lead.
But the Bucks came right back following a time-out, as Khris Middleton drilled a desperation 3-ball as time expired. Middleton had 31 points while Giannis Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 35 points and 13 rebounds.
The two teams went back and forth in the overtime session, with Boston taking control – sort of – after a driving lay-up by Tatum made it a 108-105 game with 1:22 to play.
But the Bucks weren’t done.
They had a chance to take the lead after a Tatum turnover at a time when Boston was clinging to a 108-106 lead.
But Milwaukee failed to score and ultimately had to foul Rozier with 18.8 seconds to play.
He made both free throws which put the Celtics up by four points.
But his biggest play came with 13 seconds to play when he grabbed a rebound and was fouled by Antetokounmpo which was the Greek Freak’s sixth personal foul – an automatic ejection.
Boston’s two young up-and-coming stars, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, were particularly effective getting their offense going around the rim. Brown had 20 points while Tatum had a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds.
The Celtics opened the fourth quarter with an 8-2 spurt which included Tatum whipping a pass to a cutting Brown who snatched the past inside the paint and quickly turned around for a short lay-up leading to a Bucks timeout but more important, put Boston ahead 76-68.
Boston would eventually take a double-digit lead (86-76) following a Marcus Morris put-back dunk off his own miss.
But the Bucks bounced back with six straight, cutting Boston’s lead down to 86-82 with 3:11 to play which led to a Brad Stevens time-out.
Boston missed 16 of its 20 shot attempts in the second quarter, the kind of offensive struggles that would bury most teams.
But the Bucks could only build a 47-44 lead at the half despite all those bricks tossed up by the Celtics.
Never had a three-point deficit looked so good.
Because the Celtics knew going into the half that the game should not have been that close, not how they were shooting anyway.
It was a tribute to their defense which, while not dominant, certainly was good enough to keep the Bucks from running away with the game even as their lead spilled into the double-digit realm only for the Celtics to claw back into the game with some timely stops and turnovers converted into scores in the final minutes of the second quarter.