1. It wasn’t the start to the post-All-Star break portion of the schedule that the Celtics wanted. But losing in Milwaukee without Gordon Hayward and Aron Baynes isn’t anything to be ashamed of. As Brad Stevens said postgame, there are no moral victories, but Boston did some good things that they can take away from this game.
2. The Celtics opened in an interesting defensive alignment against the Bucks two All-Stars. They started with Al Horford guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo and Marcus Smart covering Khris Middleton. This put Marcus Morris on Brook Lopez and Jayson Tatum on Malcolm Brogdon, but really Boston switched everything.
The scheme seemed to work, as Antetokounmpo scored 30 points, but had to work for everything he got. And Middleton struggled with just 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Overall, the Celtics starters more than held their own. It was the Boston bench that struggled, more on that later.
3. Last season, after losing Kyrie Irving, Stevens tweaked the offense to have no real focal point. Instead, Boston attacked whoever the opponent’s weak-point was. This was especially notable in the postseason. That strategy isn’t one that really works in the regular season, because there isn’t time to build a specific gameplan for each opponent.
This game, with days to plan coming off the break, gave us a glimpse of the Celtics might go after Milwaukee. They made Brook Lopez defend on almost every possession. Boston did this by either using Horford in pick plays, or, more often, going at Lopez when the Bucks switched. On this play, Lopez switches on to Morris. That’s a matchup the Celtics will take all game long, because it results in good looks like this one:
4. This sequence starts off pretty poorly for Smart. He makes a really careless turnover that leads to a 3-on-1 break for Milwaukee. But, because he’s Marcus Smart, he more than makes up for it:
This play, combined with his tie-up of Antetokounmpo late and his great defense on Middleton, should be a signature performance for what should be an All-Defensive First Team honor for Smart.
5. Jaylen Brown is right up there at the top of the list of the most athletic players the Celtics have ever had. We never got to see Len Bias don a green uniform, but we get glimpses of what he might have been with Brown. Guys like Kedrick Brown and Gerald Green (in his early years) had the speed and bounce, but little else. Brown is rapidly putting it all together in his third year. Once he tightens up his handle a bit, he’s going to be a really tough cover for opposing teams.
6. On this play, Boston showed great patience to get Horford a bucket. The play started with Horford trying to work a mismatch against Tony Snell. Antetokounmpo had to help, which made Horford give it up. Tatum drives and kicks to Brown, who allows Horford to re-post Snell and then gives him a great entry pass leading to the easy layup. Sometimes this year, Boston has scrambled late in the shot-clock and taken rushed shots. Here, they stayed calm and got a good shot:
7. Smart and Horford have become a pretty adept alley-oop tandem. Usually, it is Smart finding Horford around the rim out of a screen and roll play. This time, they reversed it, with Horford finding the streaking Smart. Also, note how the play starts with Irving diving on the floor for a loose ball.
8. When Boston got in trouble on defense, it was when they over-helped on drivers. The gameplan was clearly for the guards and wings to dig down and help on Antetokounmpo drives. The Celtics forced several turnovers from this. But they got caught several times attempting the same thing against Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon and George Hill. This almost always resulted in an open look for the Bucks. It’s one thing to send help against an MVP candidate. It’s not a great idea on simple dribble-drives and not something Boston usually does.
9. Several times during the contest, with Irving having an off game, Stevens called a play for Tatum to get a touch. And Tatum delivered more often than not. On this one, he gets it in the mid-post and works his way between Middleton and Antetokounmpo for the short turnaround in the paint. It’s good to see the Celtics trust the second-year developing star to deliver:
10. Irving looked like he was still on break during the first half. He scored just two points on 1-of-10 shooting. In the second half, he came to life with 20 points on 8-of-17 from the field, including 4-of-6 from behind the arc. It was a familiar formula for Boston, one that fell just short: Others keep it close, the defense is lights out and then Irving closes. That’s a tried and true strategy for closing playoff games as well.
11. There are a lot of reasons the Celtics lost. Some will point to the officiating, especially late in the game. Or the fact that Boston got just six free throw attempts. Or Hayward and Baynes missing the game. But one overlooked factor that cost the Celtics a win was getting nothing from Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele.
With Baynes out, those two got the backup minutes behind Horford and did nothing positive with them. They combined for a -13 for the game in less than 11 minutes of playing time. In a one-point loss, that looms as large as any missed calls do.