Kyrie Irving of the Celtics tries to drive past the Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe during Game 2 of a their second-round playoff series Tuesday in Milwaukee. The series now shifts to Boston with the teams tied 1-1. Associated Press/Morry Gash

Two games into their second-round playoff series, the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks have taken turns embarrassing each other.

The Celtics struck first with a 112-90 victory on Sunday that was so impressive, former captain Paul Pierce went on national television immediately afterward and declared the series “over.”

Then came Tuesday night, when the Bucks overwhelmed the Celtics, going on a 24-2 run to close the third quarter and coasting to a 123-102 win to redeem themselves.

The two teams are back to square one, their series now a best-of-five scenario, with the Celtics in possession of home-court advantage.

Game 3 is Friday night at TD Garden, followed by Game 4 on Monday night. The Bucks will be looking to build on their rout, while the Celtics will attempt to dust themselves off and regain what they had going last Sunday.

The Bucks may get a boost from the return of guard Malcolm Brogdon, who has been out since March 15 because of a foot injury. The Celtics are still waiting for Marcus Smart, who is probably not going to be ready for his return until next week, at the earliest.

Just what direction this series will take is very intriguing, given the way each team dominated in its win.

Four players figure to be front and center in determining how this all plays out, two on each side:

Kyrie Irving: The guard had played 132 games for the Celtics, including five in the playoffs, before Tuesday night and failed to score in double figures only five times. That included two games in the 2017-18 season when he exited early because of injuries.

In Game 2 against the Bucks, Irving struggled like he rarely has since arriving in Boston, finishing with nine points on 4-for-18 shooting with three turnovers and four assists.

The Bucks crowded Irving on numerous occasions, and he had problems with the defense. Irving, by the way, is shooting 42 percent in six playoff games (48 for 114), down from nearly 49 percent in the regular season.

“For me, I’ve just got to be more efficient in controlling the tempo of the game, pace, where I want to get to on the floor and making reads better around that midrange area,” Irving said after Tuesday’s game. “They did a great job of switching tonight, forcing me left. Getting to the paint wasn’t hard, it was just going in there and making the right decisions.”

The Celtics will need Irving to rebound from that performance in order to win the series.

“There’s no extra burden,” said Irving. “This is what I signed up for. This is what Boston traded for me for. Being able to go back, get back in the trenches, get ready for another battle on Friday, that’s what you live for.

“Basketball is fun when it comes like this and you have to respond, and this is the type of basketball you want to be playing this time of year.”

Jayson Tatum: The second-year forward contributed little to the offense in either game, going a combined 4 for 17 for nine points. Tatum has taken only three 3-pointers against the Bucks, missing them all.

The Celtics are going to need a lot more from Tatum in order to help free up Irving the rest of the way.

Khris Middleton: The Celtics had their hands full with him a year ago when they defeated the Bucks in seven games in the first round. Middleton averaged 24.7 points and made 25 of 41 shots from 3-point range (61 percent).

Through two games against the Celtics this postseason, Middleton has missed just four of his 14 attempts from 3-point range and is averaging 22 points. If that kind of accuracy continues, the Celtics are going to have trouble getting past the Bucks.

“He’s really good. He’s an All-Star,” Celtics Coach Brad Stevens said following Game 2. “He’s one of the 12 best players in the East this year. He’s had a good year and he started that in the playoffs last year against us, I thought. We have to do a better job on him. He got too many looks where he was too open.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo: After a rough Game 1 that had the Celtics crowding him in the lane, Antetokounmpo started figuring things out in Game 2. He had 29 points and 10 rebounds and was getting better opportunities to score.

The Celtics have been letting him fire away from outside, but Antetokounmpo has been on target, making 5 of 9 of his 3-pointers after being a 26 percent shooter during the regular season.


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