After taking care of business on Monday against the Washington Wizards, the Milwaukee Bucks had their second big test of the season as they went into Boston to take on the Celtics in a battle for the one seed in the East. It was also an emotional game, as it was the first time that Jrue Holiday would be playing against the Bucks since they traded him for Damian Lillard. Despite a big fourth-quarter effort, the Bucks couldn’t escape a rough first half as they fell to the Celtics 119-116.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum powered the Boston offense, combining for 49 points and five three-pointers. Brook Lopez led all scorers with 28 points, while Damian Lillard put up 27 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals for Milwaukee.
It was about as bad a start as possible for the Bucks to begin the first quarter. They fell behind 10-0 early after eight points from Jaylen Brown, forcing Adrian Griffin to call timeout. In that opening stretch the Bucks went 0-for-6 from the field, until the 8:57 mark when Malik Beasley would earn the team’s first points from beyond the arc. The Bucks were able to find their footing later in the quarter, going on a 7-2 run to bring themselves within five points. However, a 6-for-12 shooting performance from deep by Boston held off the Bucks in the first frame, as the Celtics took a 29-17 lead heading into the second quarter.
The second quarter wasn’t much better as the Celtics stayed hot from beyond the arc, going 6-for-11 from three. That shooting propelled the Celtics lead to as high as 21, 56-35 with 5:19 left in the frame. Damian Lillard began to make his presence known with a quick succession of four points, a rebound, and an assist to help bring the Bucks deficit down to 16. The Bucks would score the final six points of the quarter to get themselves within 14 points, 67-53. Jrue Holiday was matched on to Giannis several times in the first half and according to the ESPN broadcast, Giannis went 0-for-3 in those situations.
Milwaukee came out swinging to start the second half, with Giannis and Khris scoring the first six points. That mini-run got the Bucks within single digits (67-59) for the first time since the first quarter, but a three-pointer from Jayson Tatum got the Celtics back on track as they went on a 10-2 run to give Boston a 77-63 lead. The Bucks did make another push towards the end of the stanza, as they got it back within 11, 90-79 with 1:31 to play. The Celtics would end the quarter with momentum after a Sam Hauser alley-oop dunk and two free throws from Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 94-79 lead heading into the fourth.
Boston seemed to be in the driver’s seat to begin the fourth quarter, as they started off by outscoring Milwaukee 10-7. The run gave the Celtics an 18-point lead with 8:25 left to play. The Celtics were able to keep the Bucks at bay until the 5:34 mark when the Bucks finally started to hit some shots. After a Dame layup, the Bucks had gotten the game within 10, 109-99 with just 3:31 to play. The Bucks once again got the game within single digits thanks to a technical foul called on Porzingis. “Dame Time” showed up yet again, with Lillard hitting the technical free throw, followed by a layup to bring the game to within seven points. He’d then hit a step-back three-pointer over Jaylen Brown to bring the game within three, 114-111 with 44 seconds on the clock. But then the gas ran out. Despite his effort, Lillard unfortunately missed a late dunk, leading to intentional fouls by Milwaukee to try and claw out a result. Jayson Tatum and Jrue Holiday iced the game at the line, and the Bucks lost, 119-116.
What Did We Learn?
The Bucks defensive issues are not behind them yet. After starting the season near the bottom of the league in defensive rating, over the last five games, the Bucks found themselves ninth in that category (113.4). Despite that improved number, I think a lot of it has to do with the competition Milwaukee has been playing in their last five leading up to this game. Except for Dallas, they played teams with losing records in Chicago, Toronto, Charlotte and Washington. Even in the game against the Wizards, they gave up 129 points, with 84 of those coming within the painted area.
This time against the Celtics it was the three ball that destroyed them, as Boston shot 12-for-23 from beyond the arc in the first half. The Celtics used good ball movement and put Dame and Brook Lopez in a lot of pick-and-pop situations, which opened up quite a few looks. Despite cooling off in the second half from distance, everyone who played for Boston hit a three, with a combined six from the Celtics bench of Payton Prichard, Al Horford and Sam Hauser.
Brook Lopez is returning to form
It had been a rough start to the season for Brook Lopez on both ends of the floor. Shooting just 42% from the field, 30% from three-point range, while averaging just 10.2 points per game. With everyone around Lopez struggling in the first half, especially Giannis and Dame who went 7-for-24 in the first half, Lopez contributed 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
“Splash Mountain,” finished the night with his best game of the season, going for 28 points, seven rebounds and shooting 2-for-5 from beyond the arc.
Brook Lopez in the loss against the Celtics:— BrookMuse (@BrookLMuse) November 23, 2023
28 PTS (Game- and Season-high)
7 REB (5 OREB)
Tried his best, did EVERYTHING he could but it just wasn’t enough. Onto the next one! pic.twitter.com/dJsKOjdv42
Bucks Bench Scorers Go Cold
Despite the heroics of the Bucks stars late, they could have been aided by a better scoring punch off the bench. Outside of rookie Andre Jackson Jr’s seven points on efficient 3-for-4 shooting, Milwaukee’s bench combined for just 15 points on 6-for-18 shooting (33.3%) to go along with two of the nine Bucks turnovers. Cam Payne had a rough night especially, going 1-for-5 and accumulating a +/- of -12 while he was on the floor. This contrasted with the Celtics three-man bench scoring 31 points on 12-for-19 shooting (63.2%).
Failing to Score Inside
It’s hard to win close games when you can’t make the easy shots (shots within five feet). On the night, the Bucks missed 18 shots within five feet of the rim, including five in the first, third, and fourth quarters. Some of those misses included Dame bricking a dunk with 13.2 seconds left and the Bucks down by four points, 111-115.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Jrue Holiday got to go inside the Bucks locker room prior to the game and give hugs to former players and coaches. Was a nice moment of wholesomeness to see Lopez and Thanasis give Jrue a big hug. As great as Dame is, it was hard to see a player and person like Holiday be on the opposing end. Holiday finished the night with five points and eight rebounds for Boston.
- Andre Jackson Jr. continues to bring energy and effort off of the bench. As soon as he checked in the second quarter. The former UConn Huskie made a putback dunk and a three-pointer in his first game action of the night to trim the deficit to under 20 points, 50-67, with 1:41 left.
Andre Jackson Jr. is the tenth Bucks player to enter tonight's game.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) November 23, 2023
And he throws down a two-hand putback dunk on his first offensive possession.
- Despite the rough game for Dame through the first three quarters, Dame Time was activated in the fourth as he scored 11 of the Bucks 37 fourth-quarter points. It included this three over Jaylen Brown to bring Milwaukee within three points with 43.2 seconds on the clock