You want a youth movement? You just got one.
Once again playing without their top two point guards, the Bucks found themselves down big early--but unlike Wednesday's season-opening loss in New York, this time they found a way to come out on top late. Ultimately it was all about the Bucks' youthful reserve troop, as Zaza Pachulia (20 pts, 9 rebs, 4 ast), Nate Wolters (14 pts, 6 ast), John Henson (14 pts, 9 rebs), and Khris Middleton (13 pts and some terrific defense) inspired a 22-point second half comeback to lead Milwaukee to a stunning win in the Celtics' home opener. Six Celtics reached double figures including Brandon Bass' team-high 17, though Boston's best player was unquestionably Vitor Faverani (12 pts, 18 rebs, 6 blks).
In a repeat of Wednesday's loss in New York, the Bucks once again started slowly and quickly found themselves down 20-6 midway through the first quarter. While O.J. Mayo and Caron Butler were contriving to miss nine of their first ten shots, the Celtics were running and crashing the glass--sometimes both on the same possession. John Henson and Larry Sanders each allowed the light-rebounding Brandon Bass (5/6, 10 pts in first half) to throw down follow dunks over them, while Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green were putting their size advantages to good use against Butler and Mayo. Defensively, Vitor Faverani bothered the Bucks' forays into the paint while controlling the boards in a manner that begged the question, "WHO THE HELL IS VITOR FAVERANI???"
Ironically things would have been far worse if not for the position where Milwaukee is hurting most: point guard. Gary Neal started and willed the Bucks back to within 43-35 by scoring 11 straight Milwaukee points, while Nate Wolters looked comfortable coming off the bench and contributed 7 points and 3 dimes in the half. Sadly, without any defense it didn't matter. The Bucks flashed plenty of zone but managed precious little ball pressure as the Celtics got where they wanted, whenever they wanted. Considering Boston's ridiculous 64% shooting in the half, the Bucks realistically were lucky to only trail 63-47 at the intermission.
It didn't get any better at the start of the third quarter either, as Mayo continued to find himself the target of Wallace's superior size and Faverani continued to dominate the paint (15 rebs and 5 blocks in his first 23 minutes!). Boston's lead swelled to 22 before Larry Drew's bench once again helped the Bucks scrape back in it. Henson worked the offensive glass, Giannis Antetokounmpo got loose for an open-court slam and Kelly Olynyk's bizarre foul on Khris Middleton's 40-foot three point attempt at the end of the quarter allowed Milwaukee to narrow the lead to 83-71 heading into the fourth.
That gave the Bucks hope heading into the final stanza, and it was Wolters who sparked a 16-4 game-tying run with a long three and a floater early in the period. Two days after appearing rushed and out of sorts in New York, Wolters looked remarkably calm and under control against Avery Bradley and company, expertly working pick-and-rolls with Pachulia and Henson while twice showing off a 15-foot tear-drop to boot.
Drew opted to bring Butler back in place of Giannis in the fourth quarter--his only substitution of the last 15 minutes--and the veteran shook off his early struggles by stroking a game-tying three and following it up with a pair of free throws. But could the Bucks actually complete their comeback? A Wallace three restored the Celtics' lead to 96-93 with 3:18 left, but a crafty layup from Henson brought the Bucks back to within 98-97. Khris Middleton's defense then highlighted a few empty trips for both teams, before two free throws from Pachulia gave the Bucks a 99-98 lead with 43 seconds left.
Butler then stripped a pass to create a run-out for Wolters, who drew a foul and converted both free throws to give the Bucks a 101-98 lead with 22 seconds remaining. That's when Henson stepped up with a huge defensive play of his own, rotating baseline to swat Courtney Lee's attempted layup and trigger a break that ended in Pachulia's game-clinching layup.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo's five points included a cutting reverse layup and a breakaway dunk (below), his first field goals as an NBA player. He nearly added a couple more in the fourth quarter on a pair of nice cuts, but missed one layup and couldn't finish past Faverani on the other. He also missed a decent look at a wing three-pointer.
- My favorite Wolters play? Going right off a high pick-and-roll, he angled right and drew two defenders before dumping the ball off to an all-alone Pachulia for a lay-in. That's a play we'd love to see Knight making, too.
- Ersan Ilyasova had a hard time finding open looks, and I have to think playing with Gary Neal at point guard was a big part of it.
- Larry Sanders wasn't bad, but Faverani's physicality visibly frustrated him at times. Offensively, he threw down a pair of dunks off nice feeds from teammates, but his post touches have been fairly pointless through two games: too much of Larry standing 18 feet from the hoop with the shot clock running down and no teammates doing anything off the ball.
- The Bucks zoned throughout the game, though it didn't have much positive effect until the second half. Bottom line: it's not the zone itself so much as the guys running it.
- Henson once again played a key role in a second half rally, but this time Larry Drew stuck with him for the entirety of the fourth quarter. He worked hard to creat opportunities for himself on the offensive boards and his left-handed finishing around the hoop was silky smooth as always. But just as encouraging was his defense in the final minute--his challenge forced a Brandon Bass miss that led to Pachulia drawing a loose ball foul, and his swat of Lee's shot sealed the game.
- Early in the third quarter the Celtics had hit 64% of their shots, and of their 20 misses they had grabbed offensive rebounds on 13 of them. Hint: that's nuts, and I have no idea how the Bucks managed to win.
- I'm not sure how good he can be, but Middleton looks like a guy who will be hard to keep out of the rotation. Despite barely playing as a rookie in Detroit last year, he's had the look of a savvy one-on-one defender and smooth scorer capable of punishing teams with his catch-and-shoot game. Hitting a reliable percentage of his threes would make him extremely valuable.