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Bucks vs. Celtics: Victory in Regular Season Return

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Milwaukee is 1-0 in the bubble.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Actual, count-in-the-standings NBA basketball games are back! In their first contest, the Milwaukee Bucks prevailed over the Boston Celtics, 119-112.

The Bucks came blazing out from the gate, racking up a double-digit lead in mere minutes. Giannis Antetokounmpo (36 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists) was dunking, Khris Middleton (18 points, 8 assists, 5 boards) had a four-point play, and the Celtics were all sorts of discombobulated. In the second quarter, Boston ratcheted up the intensity (and the contact) and forced a number of turnovers while getting a major boost from the number of foul calls going their way. Both teams notched 34 free throw attempts on the evening, but Boston averages only 23 per game. The Celtics were making a point of initiating contact, and even against a team that avoids fouling like Milwaukee, it was generally working.

In the second and third quarters, the Bucks current depth issues were showing; missing Eric Bledsoe, Pat Connaughton, and Marvin Williams pushes guys like Sterling Brown and Ersan Ilyasova higher up the pecking order. Against upper-tier teams like the Celtics, this relative weakness is magnified, since it allowed Boston to dictate more of the terms and make up ground against the Bucks’ bench.

Boston took their first lead late in the third quarter, where most players on the Bucks weren’t effective (except Robin Lopez). The fourth quarter was a hard-fought, back and forth affair, but Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks were able to gut out a tough victory.

Three Things

The sky is not falling

Fans who assign a great deal of priority to this contest might be overstating things. While the game counts in the standings, it is an unprecedented environment (neutral site, no fans) with equally unforeseen timing (late in the season, after three months of downtime). But even beyond that, the Bucks have nothing to play for, not for a few more weeks. The main objective of the seeding games is for the Bucks to develop a rhythm and stay healthy for the playoffs, with the added priority of simply not showing off too much that could be game-planned for in the postseason.

Main Disney attraction

Brook Lopez was astounding on defense last night. He notched six of the team’s 7 total blocked shots, helped keep the Bucks’ edge on the defensive boards (40 to Boston’s 34), and heavily contested nearly every shot the Celtics dared take near the rim. His stalwart presence stabilized Milwaukee in this game and is likely a major factor in their postseason success.

Ladies and gentlemen, your MVP

Giannis is one of the most overpowering basketball players in existence. At the end of the game, with five fouls, he converted two and-ones to keep the Bucks’ lead intact. But not only that, he kept his cool while Celtic defenders needled him, goaded him, and pulled all sorts of shenanigans to up his foul count. Marcus Smart (more on him later) was the most obvious contributor, but Daniel Theis, Jaylen Brown, and Enes Kanter each did their part to try and take the MVP out of his game. And true to form, Giannis didn’t just respond appropriately on the court, but off of it as well.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Boston’s first bucket was a layup credited to Tatum, but he was at least 20 feet away from the play. Giannis and Matthews accidentally combined their rebound attempt, and bounced the ball into the hoop.
  • In fact, no members of the Celtics scored a basket before Brad Stevens took a timeout in the first quarter, with the score 15-2.
  • Coming out of that timeout, Stevens employed a surprising tactic: the zone press. CelticsBlog covered the defensive alignment a few days ago, and the change was interesting to say the least.
  • Jayson Tatum was dreadful this evening. Bad on offense, bad on defense, bad in transition. He went 2/18 from the field, and that first one wasn’t even his bucket. Surely, he and his teammates using the time after the game to analyze and reflect on their own performance...
  • Each of the Bucks’ starters had a double-digit positive plus-minus on the game. None of the Bucks’ reserves had a positive plus-minus (Kyle Korver and D.J. Wilson were at 0).
  • Sterling Brown appears to have “emergency ball handler” as a part of his duties; he had his lunch eaten by Smart at half court on one possession, and while attempting to navigate pressure from Brad Wanemaker on another...coach Mike Budenholzer opted to call a timeout.
  • Marcus Smart moved in front of Giannis late in the fourth to attempt and draw a charge; the call was overturned (giving Giannis an and-one), but either way it was an intensely dangerous play and the league really needs to address how charges are called so that tactics like Smart’s are not incentivized. Speaking of Marcus Smart...
  • The Celtics seem to have amped up their, shall we say, embellishment on the court. Smart drew an offensive foul on Giannis in the first half; Giannis’ leg was between Smart’s knees, but Smart reacted as if he was full-on kicked in the groin. Later, Daniel Theis tried to sell Giannis’ sixth foul while screening the Greek Freak, but the refs rightfully determined that no foul had occurred.
  • George Hill seems out of sorts. All of the Bucks’ bench players do, and maybe that’s because each of them are moved up a notch in the rotation. But Hill in particular doesn’t have that dead-eye shot he showed off in the regular season; it’s still early, but it’s worth paying attention to.
  • I need to get my hearing checked, because I could swear that I heard ESPN’s Mark Jackson giving Gordon Hayward comparisons to...Kawhi Leonard...and Michael Jordan...after making a contested midrange jump shot.
  • If tonight’s game didn’t have enough pettiness and drama for you, the Bucks take on the Houston Rockets next.