This series is tied up, folks. Behind white-hot shooting and a defensive effort that had the already somewhat hapless Bucks totally flummoxed, the Celtics whooped their visitors by a 109-86 final, even without Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. Jaylen Brown couldn’t miss in the first half, making 9 of his first 10 shots. While he slowed down considerably after halftime, Jayson Tatum picked up the slack with 20 of his game-high 30. Grant Williams poured in 21 off the bench, burying 6 of his 9 three-point attempts. Giannis paced the Bucks with 28 on another inefficient scoring night (11/27 overall and 5/9 on free throws) with scarce help outside of Jrue Holiday (7/20 for 19 points).
Through the first nine minutes of this one, things were about as bad as possible for Milwaukee as Boston opened up an early 15-point lead. Just when it looked like Giannis may have found his game with a fast-break dunk to draw within 8, Brown hit one of his 6 triples to put the Celtics back up double-digits and end the quarter up 32-21. The Bucks managed only 19 points in the second while Brown continued to torch them on the heels of his forgettable Game One and the Celtics increased their lead to 25 at the half, up 65-40. Boston shot 65% from deep with 6/8 in the first and 7/12 in the second, while Milwaukee only attempted 8 triples in the half.
In the third, the Bucks managed their highest-scoring quarter at 26 behind 18 from Giannis, who looked more like his usual self. The Celtics went cold shooting only 31.8% in the period and hitting just 2 of 11 from behind the arc, but the Bucks got nothing outside of whatever Giannis wanted in the paint and the closest they got was down 16. Down 83-66 entering the fourth, it seemed like Boston was playing with their food a little bit in the second half, allowing Milwaukee to make it a 15-point game a few times. They rectified this late with some timely threes from Tatum and Williams which killed any faint chances of a comeback or respectable margin of defeat. After splitting the two games in Boston, the Bucks head home licking their wounds tied 1-1 in the series, but with a long three-day layoff to address the myriad problems in this one before Game Three on Saturday.
Giannis started out terribly but corrected things somewhat. He might be the main reason the Bucks got off to such a horrendous start offensively, with some bad turnovers and poor shot selection. After a 1/10 start, he finished the game by hitting 10 of his next 17 shots, though without much help his teammates from there was only so much he could do. His passing was nowhere near as precise as we saw Sunday either. That improvement in the second half, highlighted by an 18-point third, had as much to do with him figuring out some seams in Boston’s interior as it did Boston laying off a bit. Early in the game, the Celtics threw single coverage on Giannis by matching up Grant Williams with him. Though Giannis could back the smaller Williams down a bit, his handle was loose enough and his aim poor enough to be stopped. Al Horford bothered Giannis a bit too at first.
Brook Lopez isn’t a part of the offense right now. He was solid defensively again protecting the rim and racked up three blocks, but he did not attempt a shot until the third while picking up 5 personals. He attempted no threes and in general had very few touches during his 25 minutes. While I don’t think more involvement than his 2 points would have changed the outcome last night, it’s a bit mystifying that with such a big size advantage in the series (none of Boston’s rotation is taller than 6’9”), the Bucks aren’t using him more. In past seasons, his inside game with his array of floaters and hooks could bail Milwaukee out of some muddy half-court offense. Right now, he’s an afterthought and I’m unsure why.
It’s hard to find a bright spot in this one, but let’s go with Pat Connaughton. He hit 6 of his 7 shots off the bench (only two of which were threes) for 13 points and looked pretty comfortable cutting to the rim or in the dunker spot.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- I mentioned this in the rapid, but the three-point disparity in this one was massive. The Bucks shot just 18 (after a regular season where they averaged 38.4 3PA/G) to Boston’s 43, and made just 3 to Boston’s 20. 17 of the Celtics' attempts were in the corner (they hit 9) and 23 were wide open (defender at least 6 feet away). A hot opponent shooting night is nothing new for the Bud era, but a night where they couldn’t—or wouldn’t—let it fly is concerning.
- Milwaukee turned the ball over 9 times in the first half, leading to 15 Boston points. All told, the Bucks coughed it up 17 times, 10 of which were Celtics steals. While last game the turnovers were an issue at first, they were a bit more self-inflicted. Last night, the Celtics’ hands were everywhere. Ball protection is a major issue right now for this team.
- The Bucks had a 54-24 points in the paint edge. The Celtics had a 51-point three-point shooting edge. While Boston appeared more and more indifferent to protecting the rim as the game went on, you can’t lose the math game this badly.
- Smart was a late scratch yesterday afternoon with his thigh contusion, though it seemed like his absence helped Boston’s offense if anything. He’s not the best decision-maker or initiator, plus he is a little trigger-happy from downtown, of course. They had a really good flow without him. We know what he does defensively, but the Celtics had no trouble shutting down the Bucks. I personally think Robert Williams is a more impactful defender.
- By and large, the Celtics created good looks for themselves. They did this through great ball movement (28 assists on 38 field goals) and stymying screens that left the Bucks resigned to their fate. For much of the first half, it seemed like none of the shots the Bucks were finding were of high quality. Boston held Milwaukee to a putrid 93.5 offensive rating and it showed. Credit to Ime Udoka’s defense for giving them few opportunities but at some point, you need to be more aggressive and get the ball in the air.
- There was a possession in the second half where Lopez caught the ball on the block with the shot clock close to expiration and held it for a couple of seconds before dishing it to a cutting Giannis. It appeared that neither guy realized how little time they had to work with as the buzzer sounded just as Giannis received the handoff.
- Each team was dealt a humbling defeat after flying high entering the game in this series. Neither contest was really close. The gap between these two squads is a lot smaller than these results indicate and both now have a good idea of what the other can do, but I don’t think we saw either at their best. Your move, Bud.