When Giannis Antetokounmpo got in the post against Aron Baynes, or whoever the Celtics placed in front of him his length proved to be a near-impossible edge. Baynes pressed into him late in the second quarter, Antetokounmpo countered with a spin move, bursting by Baynes on baseline and extending him arm to flip the ball into the net.
Antetokounmpo dunked through traffic, stopped on dimes to hit leaning jumpers and rushed out in transition when the Celtics committed turnovers. He shot 5-of-11 in the first half with 15 points, nine rebounds, only stopped momentarily by loose balls he struggled to pick up and a few Al Horford rotations to stop him at the rim.
He scored 37 points to go with 13 rebounds and three assists on 59% shooting. As Boston stalled late on offense, he continued creating opportunities for the Bucks in unison with Malcolm Brogon leading to a 108-100 win for Milwaukee.
The Celtics were haunted by Giannis late in the second in particular, where their steady lead dissipated into a seven point edge for the Bucks over the stretch run into the half.
After Gordon Hayward’s horrific injury, he greeted fans to a roaring applause on the video board hours before he plans to undergo surgery, wishing the team luck as they set forward with a youth-charged effort. In the first quarter they got it.
Jayson Tatum hit a transition layup, battling through contact and Jaylen Brown rebounded the missed free throw to get back to the line. Marcus Smart followed with a three-pointer from the corner. When Abdel Nader entered the game as Boston’s first sub, they led 11-9.
Kyrie Irving got involved, hitting a high-difficulty jumper between two defenders but continued to focus heavily on getting the cast around him involved. Tatum’s strong debut continued, bumping Khris Middleton three times before turning and hitting a strong jumper over him.
Boston led 21-19 when Brogdon opened up Milwaukee’s transition game. He tossed a bomb to John Henson on the run, setting up a low post finish from half court. Then, to begin the second, Antetokounmpo drove and dunked all over Baynes. The two got wrapped up, while Smart and Matthew Dellavedova hit the floor getting wrapped in a screen.
Next possession, Dellavedova’s elbow got in Smart’s face as they tangled on a screen again. Smart rushed toward Dellevadova after the whistle, and Henson intervened as a scuffle formed between the two teams. The referees called a common foul on Dellavedova, and a technical on Smart.
The tensions did not continue, but Milwaukee opened up their offense. Antetokounmpo responded to Daniel Theis entering and getting a putback over him, scoring two driving buckets on him. Brogdon hit a three after the defense trapped Irving up top and forced a turnover. Horford set up Rozier with a three, passing out of a double team. Rozier was active on both ends in the first half, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists on the night, but the Celts ended the second down 58-53.
Horford hit a pair of shots to start the third and Brown continued his steady, NBA-leading (albeit two games) output with a three off a feed from Tatum. Boston regained the lead and experimented with Semi Ojeleye in the frame, who hit a three on the wing over a screen in his short stint. Greg Monroe continued to torture the Celtics with high-low and pick-and-roll action with Brogdon and Middleton.
The Celts held a small lead through the quarter, then the offense stalled. Smart got stuck with the ball late in the shot clock toward the end of the quarter and tossed up a bad shot. Irving got stuck in a similar spot possessions later.
Then Irving opened the floor, rushing by Dellevadova, swinging to Nader on the wing who hit Brown for a three above the arc. Shortly after Middleton swarmed Irving on another double team, one of many Irving faced on the night. He dumped to Brown in the post, who scored through contact for three more points.
Antetokounmpo returned, dunking all over Baynes again for on a high-flying ally-oop. Next possession he drove, pulled up the defense, and dumped to Henson on a cut. A few plays later he rolled by Horford, controlled himself through contact and hit a floater and the free throw. Two Brogdon free throws later and Bucks were in full control.
Worse yet, the Celts offense completely stalled through the final frame. Irving faced continued pressure from the defense, airmailing a pass over Horford’s head on one double-team, before Brogdon hit another three. Milwaukee led 97-90 after their run.
Smart took over on the ball, hitting a smooth three on the wing and feeding Tatum who missed and tipped the ball back in. Brown fouled out in the final two minutes fighting for a ball in the air with Antetokounmpo. Boston was within four, but Irving had another shot thwarted by Henson blocking him as he tried to hit a fadeaway in the post.
Irving made a baseline layup after swiping the ball from Antetokounmpo in the post. They were within two, but as Smart rotated onto him in the post next possession he kicked to Dellevadova for a pivotal three to push Milwaukee’s lead to five.
A late run of five points from Rozier fell short and the Celts continue to look for a win and new identity, traveling to Philadelphia Friday.