Giannis Antetokounmpo Wanted More. That Was Bad for the Celtics.

MILWAUKEE — The Bucks were finally starting to feel good about themselves. They had a modest lead against the Boston Celtics, and Giannis Antetokounmpo was finding his familiar rhythm: the pep, the bounce, the power, the poise.

But when Antetokounmpo buried his first 3-pointer midway through third quarter on Tuesday, he looked more relieved than triumphant. It was enough of a momentum-building play that Celtics Coach Brad Stevens had to call timeout. But there was Antetokounmpo: jogging slowly toward halfcourt with his head bowed, talking to himself.

Antetokounmpo clearly wanted more — more of a lead, more winning plays, more of everything that has made him so special this season. On Tuesday, as he emerged from a short-lived funk to help lift the Bucks to a 123-102 victory in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, he also showed the continuing growth of his game.

“The one thing about Giannis is, he’s always demanding a lot out of himself,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “You don’t get to be that good if you don’t.”

Antetokounmpo finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds as the Bucks tied the best-of-seven series at one game apiece. He had struggled on Sunday in Game 1, scoring 22 points while shooting 7 of 21 from the field in a 112-90 loss.

Before Game 2, Antetokounmpo sounded almost conflicted. He said he knew that he had to be more assertive, but he also wanted to involve his teammates more. In the loss, he had been double- and triple-teamed by defenders whenever he got the ball. So maybe, he said, he needed to pass more — or at least to make quicker decisions.

He also received a fairly urgent phone call from his older brother Thanasis, a former member of the Knicks who now plays pro basketball in Greece. The message: You need to play harder.

“I play for my family,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said after practice on Monday. “So when my family comes and says: ‘Giannis, come on, man. You’ve got to go. You’ve got to be the aggressor, make the right pass.’ That kind of stabs you in your heart. But at the end of the day, it’s the truth, and I know they’re always going to tell me the truth.”

In fairness, Connaughton said, Antetokounmpo’s teammates had not exactly done him any favors in the series opener. It was not so much the outside shots they missed, though they missed most of them. (As a team, the Bucks shot 34.8 percent from the field in the loss.)

“It was all the stuff that led to us not hitting shots,” Connaughton said. “It was the way we didn’t get spacing. It was the way we didn’t get to the deep corners. If you look at the film, there’s literally four guys in a row standing at the free throw line defending Giannis. It was a wall. And how do you combat that? By making sure our spacing is right.”

On Tuesday, the Bucks made all the necessary corrections, and Antetokounmpo helped himself by being far more decisive. The ball did not stop with him at the top of the key. If he felt defensive pressure coming, he found teammates like Khris Middleton (28 points) and Eric Bledsoe (21 points) on the perimeter — or he drove hard at the basket. Antetokounmpo did not do any tiptoeing in Game 2.

“Obviously, I think that’s more what we’re accustomed to seeing,” Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer said of the victory. “I liked our spirit, our activity and our competitiveness up and down the roster.”

For his part, Antetokounmpo said he was awaiting another phone call from his brother.

“He’ll probably be proud,” he said.

The Celtics, meanwhile, came unglued, particularly in the third quarter as the Bucks assembled a 24-2 run to blow the game open. Kyrie Irving, Boston’s All-Star point guard, shot 4 of 18 from the field and finished with 9 points. Jayson Tatum was invisible, scoring 5 points. And Gordon Hayward attempted just five shots off the bench.

“Everyone knew Game 1 was not going to repeat itself,” Stevens said, adding: “They deserved to win.”

Antetokounmpo, Stevens said, inflicted a lot of his damage by getting “downhill” with the full force of his 6-foot-11 frame. But he also displayed his versatility by stepping outside and sinking a pair of 3-pointers during Milwaukee’s run in the third quarter.

Now in his sixth season, Antetokounmpo, 24, has been slowly working to add the 3-point shot to his repertoire, with mixed results — and that might be putting it generously. He attempted a career-high 2.8 3-pointers a game this season, but connected on just 25.6 percent of them.

Connaughton, who often joined Antetokounmpo for late-night shooting sessions this season, said it was all a matter of confidence. Antetokounmpo has already developed excellent mechanics. Even without a reliable jumper, he is difficult to defend. Adding one would make the job nearly impossible.

“The adjustment for him is understanding, ‘I can shoot,’” Connaughton said. “Sometimes the hardest shot is when people are giving you space to shoot, because it messes with your head. And for 23 years of his life, people have been telling him, ‘Go to the basket! Go to the basket!’ Now, he’s got to adjust to saying, ‘Oh, I can shoot. This is a part of my game.’”

After he made his first 3-pointer against the Celtics on Tuesday, Antetokounmpo expressed relief. After the second one, he did a little dance and shimmied his shoulders.

Soon enough, he was looking ahead to Game 3 on Friday in Boston.

“Every game,” Antetokounmpo said, “is going to get tougher and tougher and tougher.”

Perhaps for his opponents most of all.

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