This game was at risk of simply not happening a few weeks ago, before the NBA relaxed the rules around “hardship exception” contracts, which allows teams more flexibility when adding players on a short-term basis. That’s how Javin DeLaurier ended up on the Milwaukee roster, despite Milwaukee welcoming back Bobby Portis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Donte DiVincenzo in his season debut.
The good cheer quickly evaporated for the Bucks in this one, as they were immediately and consistently outworked and outmaneuvered by the Celtics. Giannis particularly looked a step slow and lacked his trademark verve as he returned from the health and safety protocols, and everything the Bucks did – on both ends – stemmed from his inability to get much going. Milwaukee switched to a 2-3 zone early to try and force Boston to score enough to keep up, but the Celtics carried 62-47 lead into halftime.
The Bucks woke up in the third quarter and managed to cut into the deficit, moving to a smaller lineup to try and out-pace Boston. It worked well-enough to juice the offense and put Milwaukee down only four points at the start of the fourth quarter, but it felt like the damage had already been done and the Bucks would never manage to get over the hump. Verily, the Boston lead ballooned back up above double-digits, but the Bucks just kept whittling away at it until tying the game on a Giannis and-one and finally capturing their first lead on a Wes Matthews three with only 30 seconds remaining in regulation.
You know it ends well when Jrue gets a steal.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 25, 2021
WES FOR THREE!! pic.twitter.com/SJoXY1XSfM
And then…then Giannis did it again.
Stat That Stood Out
For much of the game, as a unit, the Bucks were inconsistent and sloppy, and the Boston offense was more than happy to take advantage of the opportunities presented by late rotations, blown switches, and missed coverages. But the defense really tightened down in the fourth quarter and allowed only 19 points on 6/20 shooting, and it largely coincided with Giannis’ best stretch of the game. Considering how uneven Giannis’ performance was, it was widely unexpected that he would be the catalyst for an unlikely comeback…but honestly, we should know better by now.
Bucks trailed 109-96 when Giannis returned with 5:28 left. Since then, 21-4 Bucks.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) December 25, 2021
Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone. Stay safe out there.