Seventy-two hours after winning a track meet with the hapless Lakers, the Bucks were reminded on Thursday what a real basketball team looks like.
Overall, you'd have to say the Bucks held their own in Boston, rallying from an 18-point second half deficit to close within four of the Celtics in the final minute of a 112-107 loss. And while the Bucks struggled to contain anything the Celtics did inside the three point arc -- particularly in the first half -- there was also plenty to be happy about: Jabari Parker scored 10 of his team-high 22 points (8/16 fg, 6/7 fg) in the fourth; Khris Middleton rediscovered his efficiency in scoring 21 points (8/15 fg) to go with six assists; Giannis didn't look particularly comfortable running the offense and still threatened a triple-double with 14 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three blocks; and Greg Monroe once again punished Celtics defenders with 20 points on 13 shots to go with eight boards and four assists.
Alas, those things were not enough against Brad Stevens' club, which struggled from deep (5/23 threes) but got enough big plays from Isaiah Thomas (27 pts, 7 ast) and Jae Crowder (20 pts on 10 shots) to stiff-arm the Bucks down the stretch to win their ninth straight home game. The other three Celtics starters each added between 14 and 18, and Thomas made the play of the night in the final minute when his blind over-the-shoulder pass set up a corner three from Crowder. That play extended the Celtic lead from four to seven, and ultimately proved the difference on a night when very little separated the two teams statistically.
After the game, Jason Kidd made no bones about focusing on his team's poor start, and with good reason. The Celtics had the Bucks on their heels from the start, picking them apart inside while coaxing live ball turnovers to ignite a fast break that scored 18 points in the first half alone. While the Celtics' defense and tempo seemed to rattle the Bucks' new starting five, Middleton eventually steadied the ship with three jumpers in a row and Monroe added 8 points on 4/6 shooting. Still, the Bucks had no answer for Crowder, whose 14 points paced Boston in a 35-25 first quarter.
With Mayo and Giannis in foul trouble, Kidd started the second with a rather curious lineup of MCW, Rashad Vaughn, Tyler Ennis, JOB and Monroe, and the early returns looked about as problematic as you'd expect. But a reverse and three from Vaughn and driving layup by Ennis got the Bucks back in it, and a Parker and-one finish from Giannis helped them close to within 50-45 before their porous defense allowed Boston to re-extend its lead to 62-52 at the half.
The third quarter was all about Antetokounmpo for the Bucks, though not always for the best. After a foul-plagued first half, Giannis scored eight in the period, devouring Celtics defenders off the dribble while looking as shaky as ever with his shot. Shortly after airballing a free throw -- a bizarre sight for a guy who always seems to miss his free throws long -- Giannis airballed a hastily jacked 20-footer. Meanwhile, Thomas helped the Celtics continue to plug away, as Boston didn't turn it over in the third and ultimately extended their lead to 15 going into the fourth.
- Point Giannis was very much in effect tonight, and while the Freak's final line was nothing if not well-rounded, his performance still had plenty of rough edges. The Bucks' offense is mostly predicated on getting the ball promptly entered into the elbow/wing to initiate their corner series, but the entire rhythm of the offense seemed a bit...different tonight. I'm not sure it really hurt them when all was said and done, but I was surprised at how much Giannis dominated the ball relative to Middleton in particular. It didn't feel as organic as in previous games, though it's not easy running offense through your wings against Boston, which had the luxury of deploying Crowder and Avery Bradley against Giannis and Khris. Despite that, Giannis made plays and finished the night with eight assists and two turnovers. Not bad eh?
- Antetokounmpo's 14 points on 12 shots isn't terrible efficiency-wise, but unfortunately his shot continues to be completely unpredictable. He bricked a first half jumper, airballed a straight-away jumper in the third, and even airballed a free throw -- something I can't ever recall him doing. It's kind of crazy to think he's playing the best basketball of his life while struggling to do anything outside the paint, but that's sort of what it feels like.
- As noted above, it felt like they probably should have used Middleton and Mayo to take some of the ball-handling pressure off Giannis, especially considering that Mayo was going up against the Celtics' weakest ballhandler.
- Giannis played much more off the ball when MCW was in the game, but unfortunately Carter-Williams' performance in front of a few hundred friends and family was uneven at best. He finished with 12 points on 13 shots, airballing a couple shots and registering as many turnovers as assists (3).
- Kind of like last game, Jabari began the game as a jump-shooter and started slowly because of it. But his off-ball movement began to pay off in the second half, as he began to find room in transition and along the baselines. Also good: he tied his season high by going 6/7 from the foul line, the second time in three games he's managed those totals. In the final minute he had a wide open look at a three with the Bucks down six, but front-rimmed it
- With Giannis and Johnny O'Bryant in foul trouble early, Steve Novak got a surprising look in the second quarter and also made an appearance in the second half when the Bucks needed a three in the final minute. He paid it off with a tough turnaround three out of a timeout to cut the Celtics' lead to 110-105.
- The Celtics didn't have an answer for Monroe in Milwaukee and for the most part the same was true tonight as well. Monroe helped stabilize the Bucks in the first half and gave them a kickstart in the fourth, opening the period with a three-point play and scoring 11 of his 20 points in the final quarter.
- Monroe and Middleton got into it at the end of the third quarter after both seemed to want the ball on the final possession. Monroe and Middleton aren't two guys you'd expect to bicker with one another -- they're friends and both fairly mild-mannered -- but it was certainly indicative of the Bucks' frustration after the C's extended the lead to 15 through three.
- Frank Madden
- Since the starting lineup switch, the Celtics have scored the two highest first quarter marks for a Bucks opponent. They scored 30 on Feb. 9 and 35 tonight.
- The first 3-pointer of the game didn't come until the 6:38 mark of the second quarter (Rashad Vaughn).
- Jabari Parker has now scored 20 or more points in three of the past four games. He finished with 22 tonight and scored 10 of his points in the fourth quarter. He's averaging that same number (22) since the All-Star break.
- Miles Plumlee played only 14 minutes tonight, his lowest minutes total since the new lineup was rolled out against the Celtics on Feb. 9.
- Giannis' four-game double-digit rebound streak came to an end tonight. He was three away from extending it to five games.
- It didn't matter how well the Bucks played in the fourth quarter because the Celtics kept making baskets when it counted. Milwaukee shot 60.9 percent and outscored the Celtics 34-24 in the final period, but they still couldn't make stops on the other end. The Bucks eventually cut Boston's 18-point lead to six with under six minutes to play, but Thomas helped Boston respond with a 10-4 run.
- The Bucks committed 27 fouls tonight, which is their fourth-highest total in a game this season.
- Aron Yohannes