Tonight, the Boston Celtics had opposing purposes: playing hard despite last night’s sickening injury to Gordon Hayward while not ignoring its occurrence. They did a good job of the latter, playing a videotaped message from GH in the hospital wishing the Cs and Garden faithful well. As for the contest vs. the Milwaukee Bucks, it wasn’t quite as easy. Milwaukee’s size and length clogged the paint–and constantly double-teamed Kyrie Irving. The lack of secondary playmaking also hurt, and an MVP-caliber game by Giannis Antetokounmpo (37 points! 13 boards!) put the Celtics behind 0-2 for this young season.
THE GAME FLOW:
The absence of Hayward as a traditional small forward prompted Brad Stevens to further advance his ideas of positionless basketball: Marcus Smart slid into the 3-spot, and while three-guard lineups have an uneven track record, Smart’s versatility and defensive acumen meant the Cs weren’t sacrificing muscle for quickness. It also allowed Smart and Kyrie to alternate ball-handling duties. (Kyrie off-ball is, like, pretty cool to watch, y’know.)
But the Bucks are no slouch, and matched the Celtics’ intensity and offensive firepower in the first frame. Not many offseason changes for them–they’re banking entirely on improvements from Giannis Antetokounmpo, Malcolm Brogdon and Jabari Parker. The latter is injury-sidelined, but the former two are transcendent and outstanding young talents, respectively. Milwaukee didn’t have one high-volume scorer–at least not at first–instead spreading production around the roster.
Boston only took a two-point lead into the second quarter, and Milwaukee didn’t plan on making things any easier. The Bucks’ length at multiple positions lets them make plenty of trouble on both ends of the floor, particularly in the paint: Starting-but-not-starting center John Henson (he replaced sophomore Thon Maker after four minutes) and Antentokounmpo gobbled defensive rebounds and prevented second-chance points–while creating those opportunities for themselves. And the Celtics’ relative lack of size made it difficult to stop Giannis on drives, or even still-somehow-on-the-Bucks-despite-multiple-trade-attempts backup big Greg Monroe on lumbering but successful moves to the low post for buckets.
The squads traded leads for much of Q2, with Kyrie, Jaylen and Terry Rozier leading the scoring charge. Jaylen looked as confident as he did last night, racking up trips to the charity stripe on hard drives, and Rozier’s shooting is the best it’s ever been. But Milwaukee’s size/length advantage and Antetokounmpo’s singular electricity–he knows well that his team’s fortunes live and die with his success or failure–powered them to a 58-53 lead at the halfway point. Also, if Middleton/Brogdon continued to outshoot Irving/Brown, our heroes were in trouble.
Quick flashback: I’m not a believer in sports-related momentum across extended periods of time. But in games it definitely exists, and the scuffle between Matthew Dellavedova,* Smart and Henson did take some mojo from the Cs–particularly because Delly, who initiated things with a 100 percent intentional shoulder-butt into Marcus’s face, got only a common foul while Marcus got a technical, which Delly took the shot for, atrocious “Who, me?” grin in full effect the whole time.
As Q3 began, Milwaukee extended their lead by four points, and then Boston started to wake back up. It helped that Milwaukee’s shooting, especially from deep, chilled considerably, but strong roster-wide effort put them back in control of the game. Horford and Brown scored in the paint and outside it, and Kyrie functioned more as initiator/facilitator than the machinegun full of ISO points he’s so often been before–just as he said he was willing to do. (This may in part stem from a self-conscious realization that he wasn’t having the greatest shooting night. A younger Kyrie would’ve just kept shooting.)
The Celtics’ primary strategy, through the third and into the fourth, turned to what I thought it should’ve been from jump: Let Giannis feast if he can’t be stopped, while neutering all of his help. This mostly worked: As previously mentioned, Middleton missed most of his second-half shots, Dellavedova looked useless and Brogdon didn’t shoot enough.
However, it started wearing thin with about 8 minutes to go in Q4. Across the team, dudes were losing control of passes, missing cues and blundering defensively. Signs of exhaustion, to be sure, and perhaps also lingering malaise from the Hayward injury. Brown is carrying a bigger defensive burden than he expected to, and isn’t used to it yet. He reached 5 fouls with 4 minutes left and Stevens had to sub him out in lieu of Rozier. When he came back in, Antetokounmpo immediately drove at him and got Brown fouled out. This all took its toll. Boston’s lead wasn’t high enough to be unimpeachable, and Giannis’s relentless rim attacks brought Milwaukee back ahead. A series of legitimately dumb fouls by the Cs, and bad calls in favor of the Bucks (several for Dellavedova, which makes no damn sense to me) made things pear-shaped. A Delly dagger from 3, plus missed shots and blown attempts at the foul game by the Cs, solidified Boston’s 100-108 loss.
THE HOT (AND NOT)
Hot: Strong performances by Jaylen and Rozier, Theis making an impact in extremely limited minutes.
Not: Basically everything else–Kyrie’s bad shooting night, defensive miscues, neglecting to double Giannis as often as the Bucks were doubling Kyrie, Dellavedova existing on this planet and especially getting a freakin’ game-sealing dagger.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
We laugh so that we do not cry, so I’m gonna be real immature for this one. From Weird Celtics Twitter young buck @Jack_Michael17 —
Jaylen making his case to turn Boston into the new grit/grind capital:
An example of team basketball at its best:
WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?
Somehow, Marcus got a tech for taking objection to Dellavedova being a dirty player, and Delly got an inconsequential personal foul:
*P.S. Delly is the shittiest piece of shit who ever shitted his shitty way onto an NBA basketball court and turned it into a shit court through his presence. He sucks, his shitty dirty play sucks, and I hate the shitty sucky stupid rodent-shape of his shit face.