BOSTON -- George Hill has a saying -- nay, it is a rallying cry.
"It's, 'Bench mob, do your job!'" Hill told ESPN. "It's what we say when it's time for the starters to sit, and it's time for the Mob to keep us in the game."
Hill, who has often been the first off the bench for the Milwaukee Bucks, uses the phrase to motivate his fellow bench players. In Game 3, it was the Bucks' bench that made the difference. The Bucks' backups outscored the Boston Celtics' bench 42-16, and the Bucks defeated the Celtics 123-116 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Milwaukee was paced by 32 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists from Giannis Antetokounmpo. Khris Middleton scored 20 points. The "Bench Mob" was led by Hill's 21 points. Pat Connaughton, who grew up eight miles from TD Garden in Arlington, Massachusetts, had 14 points.
"Me and George always talk about Bench Mob," Connaughton said. "It's not always going to be scoring. It's going to be rebounding, defending and bringing the overall energy into the game, and that's something we need to continue to do if we are going to be successful as a team."
When the Bucks signed Hill in December, they had the playoffs in mind. At the time, Milwaukee was in need of veteran leadership and players with playoff experience. Hill fit the mold, having played on the 2018 Cleveland Cavaliers team that made it to the NBA Finals. Mike Budenholzer had previously coached Hill in San Antonio.
It took Hill several weeks to master the names of all of his coaches. Among his teammates, he quickly became a locker room favorite.
"That's my man," Eric Bledsoe said of Hill. "I am always proud of George coming in and picking up the slack. He played a helluva game."
Milwaukee's bench production was especially important, given that Bledsoe finished with only nine points on 4-of-15 shooting in Game 3.
"The biggest thing that is going to be an X factor is our bench," Bledsoe told ESPN before the series began. "They've been playing well."
The first two games of the series were lopsided blowouts. But Friday's game was competitive -- at least for the first three-and-a-half quarters. Celtics fans dressed as leprechauns and green gladiators oohed and aahed as Jaylen Brown threw down a left-handed dunk over Antetokounmpo. Kyrie Irving smoked defenders with his lethal crossover. Antetokounmpo scored a finger-roll layup from behind the backboard.
The game featured 15 ties and 13 lead changes. The Celtics built a 12-point lead in the second quarter. The Bucks cut it to five. The Celtics pushed their lead back to seven. The Bucks answered. The lead bobbed between the two teams, and at the half, the Celtics held a one-point lead.
Back and forth the Celtics and Bucks went again. Brown smashed down a left-handed dunk over Antetokounmpo, and Irving swatted Bledsoe.
The Bucks' momentum began to build in the third quarter. A Bucks lineup of Hill, Middleton, Connaughton, Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez turned a Celtics four-point lead into an 11-point lead for the Bucks. In the span of five minutes, the Bucks outscored the Celtics 21-6. Hill scored 11 of his 21 points in the third quarter.
The Bucks never trailed in the fourth.
"On the road, in this environment, that's when coaches talk about needing guys who have experience, that have been there and that understand what it takes," Budenholzer said. "George in his performance tonight is the prime example of that."