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BOSTON – Every game down the stretch is crucial for the Celtics to secure a playoff spot. When you lose to one of the teams you are chasing for a spot, the stretch becomes that much more challenging. Their 110-101 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, holders of the East’s sixth seed, put them at their biggest disadvantage yet.
So when the Celtics committed six turnovers in the fourth quarter after a huge run to get them back in the game, the desperation feeling began to sink in. Coupled with the Brooklyn Nets’ vital win over the Toronto Raptors, the Celtics see themselves a game out of the playoffs Friday night.
Jared Sullinger’s rusty and brief return was overshadowed by a balanced attack from Jason Kidd’s Bucks, who relied on a different scorer each quarter, with Real Plus-Minus king Khris Middleton and controversial acquisition Michael Carter-Williams taking over crunch time.
O.J. Mayo led the way for the Bucks with 22 points, most of them coming in an explosive second quarter. Isaiah Thomas and Jonas Jerebko got the Celtics back late in the third and early in the fourth. As the Celtics went to a 2-3 zone that stifled the Bucks’ ball movement, MCW and the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo hit crucial jumpers to maintain the Bucks’ comfortable lead.
The Celtics brought in their offensive unit halfway through the fourth, but Middleton and MCW found favorable matchups and pounched. Middleton, as well as MCW, took advantage throughout the night of their periodic matchups with Thomas, shooting over him as if they were Yi Jianlan playing a chair.
Thomas had a game-high 23 points to go with six assists, scoring 14 of them in the second half. His burst of energy paired with some Jonas Jerebko shooting catalyzed the Celtics second half run, but it eventually fell flat.