Remember the second game of the season, when the Milwaukee Bucks kind of embarrassed the Boston Celtics and so many of us were freaking about what this season would be like? Yeah, that was weird. The Cs got payback in their next meeting with the Bucks, and many games later looked to take the lead in the season series. Through all-around team basketball and the star quality of Al Horford, Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum, our heroes did just that.
THE GAME FLOW
The Celtics offense is trending up of late, and the first frame of this contest against the Bucks showed it. Most of the good looks and open drives to the rim became swishes or trips to the line. Much of this stems from Milwaukee’s refusal—or at least coach Jason Kidd’s refusal—to abandon the hyperactive trapping defense that often gives up one portion of an opponent’s offense in the interest of aggressively stopping another. Usually they go HAM on trapping pick and rolls and leave the perimeter unguarded, allowing a boatload of opposing threes.
Tonight, for long stretches, they reversed the strategy to keep the Celtics—who are hot from three of late—off the arc, and surrendered the painted area. Which in and of itself, off drive-and-kick plays, led to open threes for Marcus Morris and Tatum, the latter of whom made the 4 treys he took BEFORE THE END OF THE FIRST QUARTER. Aron Baynes, who started, held down The essentially unstoppable force that is Giannis guarantees at least a decent showing for the Bucks offense, and Bledsoe and Khris Middleton are also likely to contribute. But if a game becomes a straight-up shootout, Milwaukee isn’t winning it barring a Middleton heat-check night.
After racking up 34 in Q1 (a season high in single-quarter points for the team), Boston led the bench get some tick, with Daniel Theis, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart all showing out fairly well in various ways. Honestly, aside from Tatum, no one really tore up the stat sheet in the first half except for Tatum, but just about everyone contributed positively to the offense at some point or another. (Can I mention that as of this game, Jayson Tatum is shooting 49 percent from deep, which is the best such figure in the entire NBA. Eat your heart out, Simmons stans.)
Defensively, the Cs didn’t have much choice about Antetokounmpo getting his, but beyond that, only Middleton had a remotely good showing. In the restricted area, long a defensive trouble spot for the Brad Stevens-era Celtics, Baynes and Horford did a good job of neutralizing John Henson.
Water is wet, and Kyrie eventually got going—not game-takeover pace, but enough to confound Milwaukee. Between him, Horford, Theis and Rozier, plus their defensive acumen Boston surged ahead to a 19-point lead. It didn’t stay that intense because the Giannis/Middleton combo stayed hot and Tony Snell used his length and surprising quickness to snag open treys, but Bledsoe essentially disappeared and they got far less out of Malcolm Brogdon and the somehow-still-alive-but-like-how Jason Terry. Milwaukee was not going to hack it the way they were going, and Boston pounced on that discombobulation to bring their lead back to 15, leaving us 62-49 at halftime.
The Celtics cooled off a bit and the Bucks got a few lucky ones to start the third quarter. This was not a sustainable trend, with the Cs getting anything they wanted in the paint. If not for Middleton and Antetokounmpo amassing 18 made FTs by themselves, more than the entire Celtics squad, the Bucks would be in particularly violent death throes instead of merely down by a sliding total of 13 to 20 points for most of Q3. Around the 4:00 mark, Giannis drove a 20-10 run that got his team to be only 10 down, and then Bledsoe shook Kyrie off to get an easy trey and get within single digits, which was probably the most lively stretch of Bucks action thus far this entire game.
Kyrie, not impressed, decided to stunt on Giannis and go on a (mostly) solo run of his own. This included, alongside the showcase of his handles and crafty finger rolls you’d expect, a steal that made the Bucks superstar look absolutely juvenile and surprised most of us watching as well. It’s another example of how Irving’s game continues to expand under the guidance of Stevens and through his own evident commitment to building new skill sets. To Antetokounmpo’s credit, he held his mud and didn’t get overly rattled. Bledsoe and Brogdon started to sink some threes, and got the Bucks within 8 just before the third quarter ended.
The final frame was basically the same for much of its run: Milwaukee staying within striking distance but not getting contributions from enough of the roster to make a real stab at a win. Kyrie took a rest and let Smart handle the point, which created two amazing lob-to-dunk plays between SMARF and Horford. In essence, the big fella handled the burden of putting the game entirely out of reach for the Bucks despite Giannis scoring 40 (40! Efficiently! Good lord.), though Kyrie had some late pyrotechnics of his own, including an unbelievable circus floater. With Giannis finally losing the energy to steamroll to the cup and taking midrange shots that he still isn’t great at, this one was kaput and after some formalities the Celtics got their 21st win, 111-100.
HOT ISH: Horford with a near triple-double (20-9-8 on 80 percent shooting) and excelling in every facet of his game, Kyrie dominating again (32 points on 54 percent shooting, plus 4 boards and a dime), Tatum’s marksmanship and hustle, SMARF back to his routine of bad shooting but good everything else, solid work from the bench.
NOT ISH: Would’ve liked the Cs to have shut Giannis down a little bit so the lead would’ve been bigger and the starters could’ve rested more, but that’s the tiniest of quibbles. Aside from their turnovers (14 to Milwaukee’s 9), Boston had the advantage in every facet of the game—including devastating rebounding.
SMARF/HORFORD, a play in four acts:
Just one of Kyrie’s ridiculous circus shots: