1. Throughout the Isaiah Thomas era, the Celtics were known as a team that would fight and scrap to stay in games. There was rarely a worry if they fell behind by a big deficit. Like clockwork, they’d get back in the game. They didn’t always win, but they’d make it a contest. Even the “Hospital Celtics” of 2017-18 were a group you could count on to make it a game no matter the deficit.
Last year’s group? They were frontrunners of the highest order. When they looked good, they looked like world beaters. If they got down, they were done. That was maybe the most disappointing thing out of a long list of disappointing things.
This year’s Celtics? It’s too early to tell, but a 30-point turnaround against one of the best teams in the NBA is a really encouraging sign. It looks like the team has that fight back again. And that’s the kind of team Boston loves.
2. Jaylen Brown was out due to an illness, so Marcus Smart got the call to start. And Brad Stevens wasted no time in asking Smart to defend Giannis Antetokounmpo. Smart got under the MVP’s skin almost from the start of the game, and was a big part of keeping Antetokounmpo mostly in check.
3. It was a good night for Jayson Tatum. He missed some shots at the basket, but he never settled for the mid-rangers that drive everyone crazy. All game long he was getting to the rim, as 12 of his 22 shots were in the paint. That included this nifty lefty finish:
4. We all love Robert Williams’ ability to get way up for lobs. But…sometimes the team takes it a little too far. This is an example of a time where the lob wasn’t the right play:
5. There was a lot of confusion as to exactly what happened when Brad Wanamaker fouled Antetokounmpo:
The play resulted in a review and ultimately a foul on Wanamaker, but many thought it should have been a foul on Antetokounmpo, including those on the ESPN broadcast. Here’s what happened: The play was called a foul on Wanamaker on the floor. Because of the nature of the contact involved, the officials reviewed to see if it should have been a flagrant foul on Wanamaker. During the review, they officials may have seen that Antetokounmpo actually committed the foul when his left arm caught Wanamaker in the face.
But here’s the rub: The call on the floor (foul on Wanamaker) can’t be changed during that review. For that to be changed, it would have necessitated a challenge from Stevens, who chose not to use his coach’s challenge at that point in the game. That’s why the foul on Wanamaker stood and Antetokounmpo got two free throws.
6. As covered above, the Celtics were a moderate mess in the first half. But no one was worse than the team’s three best available scorers, as Tatum, Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward combined to shoot just 7-of-26 in the opening 24 minutes. While the comeback was great, these cold first halves are a disturbing trend over the season’s first four games.
7. While he’s not Rajon Rondo with his ball fakes, Smart has come a long way as a passer and being able to fool the defense. He uses a little fake here to hold the defense and then dump it off to Daniel Theis for an easy layup:
8. It was a quiet night for Grant Williams in the box score, but he’s doing a lot Smart-like stuff where he makes an impact stats don’t always measure. Williams makes a bad pass, but immediately gets back in the play and picks up a steal. It’s this sort of heady play that has everyone so excited about Williams’ potential. He also held his own defending both of the Lopez brothers and Antetokounmpo at times.
9. So, about that comeback…whew boy! The Celtics ended the third quarter on a 22-5 run to take a four-point lead into the fourth. They did it with a combination of knocking down a bunch of shots and by amping up the defense considerably. As it has been for most of the season, Boston’s ball pressure has been key to their defensive success. The Bucks run a crisp offense with lots of ball and player movement. The best way to get them off-kilter is disrupt dribbling and passing lanes. The Celtics were able to do that throughout the second half.
10. Let’s talk about Gordon Hayward. For over a year now, the team preached patience, which is something this space backed. That all seems to be paying off now. It’s not really the stats, even though they are good at 17.3/7.3/3.5 on 48/58/85 shooting splits. It’s how Hayward looks on the court that is the most exciting. He looks like the guy Boston signed away from Utah. No play is a better example than this one. Hayward gets Brook Lopez in a switch and his confidence is bubbling over. He backs it way out and proceeds to destroy Lopez off the bounce for the layup. This is something we’ve been waiting to see for almost two years.
11. Second Hayward highlight was this one where he teamed up with Tatum for the fastbreak dunk. The best part? Hayward wanted to get out and run before he even had the ball.
12. There are a bunch of clips that could be pulled to demonstrate it, all featuring Tatum, Hayward and Walker hitting jumpers, but Boston killed Milwaukee’s favored defense in the second half. The Bucks play drop pick and roll coverage where either of the Lopez brothers drops back into the paint to protect the rim. That dares the ballhandler drive into size in the paint, or to settle for a midrange pull-up jumper, or to come right off the screen and shoot. All three of the Celtics primary ballhandlers in this game varied their approach to great success in the second half. By the time Milwaukee went small with Antetokounmpo at the five, Boston already had the game in hand. Something to file away if these teams play more meaningful games down the line.