BOSTON (AP) — Terry Rozier and Eric Bledsoe spent seven games trash-talking through the media and pretending not to know each other’s names.
When it was over, they gave each other a quick hug – and a smile.
”Just respect,” Rozier said after scoring a career playoff high 26 points in Game 7 against Bledsoe’s Bucks on Saturday night to help the Celtics beat Milwaukee 112-96 and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year.
”You’ve got two guys that want to win, two chippy guys, two short point guards,” Rozier said. ”We were just out there having fun. If it takes for us to go back and forth, jawing back and forth to battle, push each other, that’s just part of the game. We talked after the game, no stuff.”
Rozier added nine assists, Al Horford had 26 points and eight rebounds, and even Giannis Antetokounmpo tipped in a basket for the Celtics, who will meet the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round.
Game 1 is in Boston on Monday night.
”We’re going to have to play great,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who was already without would-be starters Gordon Heyward and Kyrie Irving when Jaylen Brown left Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury. ”That’s just another thing. Somebody else is going to have to step up and play great. But we’ll get ready.”
Khris Middleton scored 32, Bledsoe had 23 and Antetokounmpo had 22 points and nine rebounds for the Bucks. Milwaukee has advanced from the first round of the playoffs just once since 1989, losing nine straight playoff series since Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell brought George Karl to the Eastern Conference finals in 2001.
Jayson Tatum added 20 points for the Celtics, who rode the home-court advantage to win all four games in Boston.
”Wasn’t able to win on the road, but we pushed the series to Game 7,” Antetokounmpo said. ”A lot of the guys in the locker room have never been in Game 7s. It’s a new experience. Now we know now what it takes to win a Game 7. You’ve got to come out, hit first.”
Playing in their NBA-record 31st Game 7, the Celtics improved to 20-4 at home and 23-8 overall in best-of-seven clinchers. It was the second Game 7 at the TD Garden this week, with the Boston Bruins beating the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night to advance in the NHL playoffs.
”It’s more than you can imagine, just a great feeling,” Horford said. ”Our fans really gave us that energy. This is why you work so hard in the regular season, to put yourself with home-court advantage.”
BLEDSOE AND BLEDSOE
When he was at Louisville, Rozier was compared to Bledsoe, who had left Kentucky a few years earlier. But the two did their best to work up a friendly hatred during the series.
It started when Rozier referred to his Bucks counterpart as ”Drew Bledsoe” – confusing him with the former New England Patriots quarterback. Since then, Bledsoe has pretended he doesn’t know who Rozier is.
Celtics fans joined in by chanting ”Who is Bledsoe!” in the first half. And during a fourth-quarter break, the scoreboard showed a video of Drew Bledsoe holding up one of his Patriots jerseys and proclaiming himself ”the original Bledsoe.”
”Man, that was special,” Rozier said. ”I don’t know who thought of that, but that was nice.”
FIRST HALF RUNS
Tatum had nine points in the first, when the Celtics scored 15 straight points – including a tip-in by Antetokounmpo into the Boston hoop – and 20 of the last 22 to end the quarter with a 30-17 lead. Milwaukee scored 11 in a row at the beginning of the second to make it a two-point game, but Boston answered with nine in a row to make it 41-30.
The Celtics led 50-42 at the half despite going 1-for-12 from 3-point range. Horford had 14 points and seven rebounds at the break, and Bledsoe had 12 points for the Bucks. But both Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe had three fouls at halftime.
Milwaukee cut the deficit to three points early in the third but Boston scored 11 of the last 15 points in the quarter. The Bucks never got within single digits in the fourth.
Jaylen Brown limped off to the locker room late in the second quarter, then came out to test his sore right hamstring just before the start of the second half. But he left the floor and went back into the tunnel; after riding the stationary bike for a few minutes and getting checked out in the locker room, the team said he was available to return, but he did not.
”I was told that if we got in a pinch he could play,” Stevens said. ”I decided that’s not going to happen. With hamstrings – let’s see how he feels tomorrow.”
Brown said it was diagnosed as a Grade 1 sprain. He will have an MRI tomorrow.
”Whatever it takes. I wouldn’t miss this series for the world,” he said, vowing to be back for Game 1. ”That’s my goal.”
Bucks: Have an 0-18 record in playoff series in which they’ve lost the first two games. They are 2-8 in Game 7s. … Bledsoe picked up a technical foul in the first quarter after complaining about a foul call. … C John Henson missed his fifth straight game with a sore back. … Scored zero points on fast breaks.
Celtics: Hayward, Irving and Daniel Theis were all at the game. Theis, who has been out since March 11, recovered enough from left knee surgery to ditch his crutches for the first time on Friday. … Also in the crowd: Red Sox owner John Henry and Patriots owner Robert Kraft. … Red Sox manager Alex Cora and a bunch of players also filed into a pair of luxury suites after their game ended. … Boston was 4-for-5 from 3-point range in the third. … Rozier’s 26 points were a career playoff high. … Scored 60 points in the paint.