119-112: Takeaways from Celtics vs Bucks
The Celtics opened up their eight-game seeding schedule inside the NBA bubble Friday night with a 119-112 loss to the Bucks. Jayson Tatum made one shot, Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled out three times and Kemba Walker played 19 minutes under restriction.
Here are some takeaways from Celtics vs Bucks…
One to forget for Jayson Tatum
Jayson Tatum may have just played the worst game of his career.
He went 2-for-18 from the field — one make coming on a Bucks own-goal — and didn’t look like himself in any aspect of the game. Tatum’s jumper was short consistently, he didn’t appear to have a plan when driving to the rim and his defense suffered seemingly due to his struggles on the other end.
You can say the referees giving Giannis three extra fouls to play with cost the Celtics down the stretch, but if Tatum doesn’t play like he just rolled out of bed Boston probably wins the game going away.
The Celtics are only going to go as far as Tatum takes them. His leap in February made them legitimate contenders, and after a clunky first two scrimmages, Tatum finding his rhythm offensively has become a key storyline to watch for this team.
It’d be naive to overreact to a bad performance against a historic defense in the real game Tatum’s played in over months. BUT, I think we can agree he was nothing short of atrocious in this one.
The Bucks blitzed the Celtics right off the opening tip, sprinting out to a 17-2 start before we could all crack open our first beers. Boston cut into the lead to end the quarter.
The Bucks came out strong again to start the second to build another double-digit lead. The Celtics cut it to six by the half.
Every time the Bucks appeared to be positioned to pull away, the Celtics clawed their way back in despite having zero flow to their offense. You can credit their defense to that, especially Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart. Both played exceptionally well defending the paint and forcing turnovers.
Last year the Celtics may have packed it in after falling behind 17-2 in the opening minutes, but this is a different group. They fight back, they lean on their defense when shots aren’t falling and trust they’ll find good looks at some point in the game. Boston should feel pretty good about a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup based on their play Friday.
Kemba strong in limited time
One of the biggest question marks surrounding the team was Kemba Walker’s knee. The plan was to play him 15-20 minutes and he played 19, scored 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting and looked like his normal self zipping from side to side around screens and into pull-up jumpers.
Walker didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter, much to his dismay, but it was probably the right thing for Brad Stevens to hold his All-Star point guard out. Boston needs him for the playoffs, not the seeding games.
We’ll see how his knee reacts to live game action, but you have to feel good about Walker’s play after knee issues flared up following a four-month hiatus from the basketball court.
The Celtics and Bucks played a two-hour and 45-minute game and it felt a lot longer due to all the foul calls. The two sides combined for 54 personal fouls, and honestly, most of them were warranted.
Defenders for both teams were extremely undisciplined in biting on pump fakes and fouling jump shooters, while the physical nature of this matchup yielded quite a few contact plays around the rim. The Bucks had three starters with at least four fouls, while the Celtics had two, and Antetokounmpo probably committed an extra four fouls that weren’t called in crunch time as well.
The Lakers and Clippers game went a little long as well on Thursday due to the abundance of foul calls, and this might be something the NBA wants to take a look at as bubble play resumes. Fans aren’t interested in free-throw shooting contests, and while it’s important not to let teams muck games up and risk injury to star players, there needs to be a happy medium.
We’ll see if referees get a little more lenient on calls moving forward after the first slate of games conclude.
Other parting thoughts from Celtics vs Bucks
*Gordon Hayward looked great in this game. He scored 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out six assists to go along with some strong defense on Giannis at times as well. His pull-up jumper in the mid-range looks good too.
*Stevens emphasized the importance of the Celtics being loud during games without fans and mentioned moving his louder players to the front of the bench area to maximize his team’s volume. While the starters were on the floor, Marcus Smart, Grant Williams and Enes Kanter were front and center. It’s clear who the team’s best cheerleaders are.
*Speaking of Smart, he is an agent of chaos. The first few games in the bubble are bound to be sloppy contests, and that’s just where Smart thrives. Where he can capitalize on more loose-ball opportunities, his opponents potentially being a little more careless with the ball and defenses who aren’t yet keyed in on the nuances of Boston’s system. Smart was probably Boston’s best player Friday and it makes a ton of sense why.
*Brook Lopez was leaving Daniel Theis alone for the most part at the top of the key during the Celtics’ offensive sets. This allowed the Bucks to shut down the paint, which is their pillar principle on defense. If these two teams meet in the playoffs, Theis needs to be ready to knock down that open three to force Lopez out to the perimeter.
*The Celtics had a nice run at the end of the third quarter utilizing a small lineup. Milwaukee hesitated in deploying Lopez on the floor with a bunch of perimeter players so they went with Giannis at center. The Celtics carved that lineup apart and it helped them tie the game entering the fourth quarter. Going small may be something Stevens turns to in a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup.
*For the love of god, STOP FOULING GIANNIS ON HIS FADEAWAY JUMPER. Aside from maybe a three-pointer, that’s the one shot the Celtics should want the reigning MVP to take. Let him do it. Get a hand up of course, but don’t foul the guy when he wants to bail your defense out a few possessions per game.
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