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Milwaukee vs. Boston: Bucks Battle Back; Drop Coal in Celtics Stocking

What a comeback

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks rarely led on this Christmas afternoon, but they found a way to beat back the Boston Celtics behind a late fourth quarter run, 117-113. Milwaukee looked sluggish from tip, with Boston taking full advantage firing nearly 60% in the first period alone to go up 35-22. Unfortunately, the Celtics hot shooting (48.8%; 10-23 from deep) continued to press the Bucks as they went down 62-47 at halftime. Between 5-17 from three, and the Celtics notching 14 points off Milwaukee’s seven turnovers, Bud’s team had some ground to make up. Thankfully, they delivered us all a gift with a dynamite third period, scoring 43 points to trail just 90-94 heading into the fourth. After Jabari Parker pushed the Celtics ahead by 11, the Bucks fought back with a thunderous display down low by Giannis Antetokounmpo that brought Milwaukee ahead for a Xmas day miracle.

What We Learned

This was expected, but it’s still good to know there is rust all around this Milwaukee Bucks roster after the myriad players missing throughout the year. Donte DiVincenzo was obviously the most notable return in terms of injecting different energy to the team, but Giannis was back from COVID protocols, as was Bobby Portis. There were missed communications/passes on some pick-and-roll, some sloppy turnovers and a bit of general sluggishness that was to be expected. But, it was a good reminder that even when familiar players like DiVincenzo return, there will be a few growing pains. Helpful lesson to keep in mind even when (and should) Brook Lopez return.

To have all that and still get a win, how sweet.

Three Pointers

Giannis — sluggish but sound. Giannis may have struggled early, but he found his rhythm against, who else, Jabari Parker as the first period came to a close. His transition and power finishes gave way to forward momentum. In the second, they started aggressively showing him double teams whenever he even approached getting the ball in post position, leading to plenty of kickouts and passes to cutters beneath the bucket. He certainly faced his fair share of struggles, but he also imposed his will in the third with an impressive end-to-end sequence blocking Robert Williams III at the rim and laying in this stellar euro-step finish. He ended the game with 36 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in his return.

The Big Ragu returned. Donte DiVicenzo was the first sub off the bench today, swapping in for Giannis Antetokounmpo with 7:40 left in the first. In true Ragu fashion, he missed his first shot...a layup. He showed decent movement as an on-ball defender though, although there were some of his typical off-ball lapses that led to sprinting closeouts. He was at times a menace as the point of their 2-3 zone in the second quarter, and it also led to some overhelping when the Celtics got decent shots off gambles for steals. He also showed his ability as a connecting playmaker though in the third, with an impressive cut in the third that he quickly flicked to Portis in the dunker spot who found Connaughton in the corner for one of the game’s more impressive possessions. He had three points and 2 boards in his return.

Patience and Chemistry Late in the fourth period, as the Bucks were making a charge, there was a very telling possession between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday. Giannis stood atop the arc, with Robert Williams on him, clapping his hands vigorously asking for the ball. Holiday, knowing Giannis, blew him off, instead preferring to take Payton Prichard down low with his dribble. His attention allowed Giannis to drive to the rim for an and-one opportunity, with Robert Williams occupied at the tin defensively. Antetokounmpo is wildly dangerous when he’s able to work off-ball, and Holiday knew he would be more effective than trying to drive downhill from atop the key. It was the type of knowing possession that illustrates the shared memory between the two. While we’re mentioning Jrue, he was stellar with 17 points, five boards, three assists and three steals.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Boston came out of the gate switching all their coverages which gave Giannis plenty of opportunities for early drives to the rim. He looked like he was having a bit of trouble getting his usual hops back while attacking the rim as the Celtics were able to contest him multiple times. Predictable given how long he was out.
  • Boston took full advantage of Milwaukee’s defenders playing off on the weakside in particular, splashing home 4-9 triples in the first.
  • It didn’t end in a miss, but with about 8:45 in the second you really saw the movement skills of Grayson Allen on the offensive end. After switching the ball to the right side of the floor, as Jrue drove into the lane he ran from the top of the key all the way to the left corner, all the while staying within Jrue’s line of sight. Jayson Tatum got aught ball-watching, and it let to an open look. It didn’t land, but those kinds of chemistry plays will pay off. Allen struggled overall though with just two points.
  • The Bucks went to a 2-3 zone partway through the second quarter, I think partially as a way to stop the pick-and-roll penetration Boston was getting, and namely the passes they were making off of those. It still led to some open looks from deep, but it did help Holiday get more physical with Celtics drivers into the lane. They went back to man for the final few minutes of the period and found themselves subject to, once again, a few kickouts.
  • Shoutout Eric Nehm for this great piece, perfectly idealized in a Khris Middleton one-handed pocket pass to DeMarcus Cousins on the pick-and-roll to start the second half.
  • Bud may have never coached Jabari, but he must’ve had J-Kidd’s scouting reports, because he did a heck of a job matching up Giannis’s minutes with his former teammate’s.
  • Despite some positive games of late filling in as a starter, the return of Wes Matthews and other reinforcements relegated Jordan Nwora back to a DNP-CD status.
  • After a hot start, Jaylen Brown went almost two straight periods without scoring a point. From the 3:00 of the second period, he didn’t score again until around 3:00 left in the fourth.
  • Bud ran with a closing lineup of the big three plus George Hill and Wesley Matthews.