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Flawless execution: Takeaways from Celtics/Bucks Game 1

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Boston dominated by using Milwaukee’s defensive approach against them.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

1. Game 1 played out basically perfectly for the Celtics. Outside of a second quarter run where the Bucks got hot from three, Boston executed their gameplan perfectly. They guarded well on defense and hit shots on offense. The offensive plan wasn’t anything special. It was just good execution and taking what the Bucks offense gave them.

2. Brad Stevens made the series’ first adjustment before the ball was even tipped. He replaced Aron Baynes with Marcus Morris. In addition, Stevens put Al Horford on Giannis Antetokounmpo right from the jump, which was a bit of a surprise, but certainly worked out.

By starting Morris, it forced the Bucks to defend Horford with Brook Lopez, which is an offensive mismatch that Boston took advantage of early on.

3. Let’s talk a little about Horford’s defense on Antetokounmpo. Holy cow did Horford come to play! He bodied Antetokounmpo. He played with active feet and hands. Overall, Horford had Antetokounmpo for 31 possession and held him to 3-of-11 shooting, while committing just one shooting foul. He also blocked Giannis twice, including on this drive early in the game:

4. Kyrie Irving played a great floor game. He was aggressive as a scorer, but didn’t force things. He was patient in creating looks for his teammates, including finding Horford six times out of his 11 total assists. And when he’s making shots like this one, he’s impossible to guard. This shot came when Boston scored four straight times in the first quarter to open their first double-digit lead, with three of the buckets coming from Irving.

5. It was a quiet night for Jayson Tatum on offense. He wasn’t a big part of the gameplan as far as getting shots. The Bucks tried to put Lopez on him at points in the game, so Tatum just stayed around the arc, which pulled Lopez away from the rim. But defensively Tatum was terrific. He was one of the primary defenders on Khris Middleton, who torched Boston in last year’s playoffs. He held Middleton to 1-of-4 shooting and forced a turnover over 19 possessions. And Tatum grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots as well.

6. Something to keep an eye on, just as it was in the Pacers series: early turnovers. Boston committed six of their 12 turnovers in the first period. Against a team as good as Milwaukee, you can’t have that. Plays like this one are just wasted opportunities:

7. Morris drew the start and delivered. Horford and Irving are grabbing the headlines, but Morris played a really solid game. He played under control and didn’t force things offensively. He was very good defensively against both Lopez and Antetokounmpo. And while the stat-line will show just one assist, but Morris made several nice passes in the game. This pass is not one Morris has always made this year. He’s usually forced a fallaway or leaner. Here he finds Rozier for the wide-open triple:

8. In last year’s postseason, without the individual brilliance of Irving, the Celtics relied on hunting mismatches to find offense. They’ve continued that this year, especially against reserve groups. Pat Connaughton has no chance of guarding Gordon Hayward, especially off the dribble. And when Connaughton was paired with Nikola Mirotic or Ersan Ilyasova (or both for short stretches!), Hayward’s eyes lit up. Hayward instantly went into attack mode and finished with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting and five assists. Look for Boston to continue to go right at these mismatches throughout the series.

9. Another mismatch, because of the size difference is Eric Bledsoe guarding Jaylen Brown. For a few brief periods, the Bucks played Bledsoe and George Hill together. In those stretches, Hill guarded Irving and Bledsoe picked up Brown. Brown was able to use his size to get to spots on the floor where he could simply rise and shoot over Bledsoe, as he does here:

10. Here’s an example of Irving and Horford just working the Bucks defense perfectly. Brown sets the screen, but that’s nothing. Irving knows he’s really playing a two-man game with Horford. Watch him keep the ball for one extra dribble. That forces Antetokounmpo to take a step in the paint. Hill stays with Irving, because Milwaukee doesn’t switch defensively. Irving uses patience to make sure Horford gets the time to knock down the three-pointer.

11. This sequence was probably the highlight of the game for the Celtics and Horford. Tatum digs down to help, but Horford takes care of the rest:

12. It wasn’t a big game for Horford as a passer, as he was in a scoring role, but he did still pick up three assists. This one demonstrates how Milwaukee doesn’t switch things. They rely on solid man principles with weak-side help. Because Boston is playing five-out, the Bucks have no chance of stopping this play:

13. By keeping Antetokounmpo focused at times on the ballhandler, it removes one of the best help defenders in the league. On this play, Tatum keeps his dribble alive against Antetokounmpo. He then draws Ilyasova, whose best defensive ability is taking charges. But Tatum stops well short and simply lobs it to Daniel Theis for the dunk:

14. This last play was the capper on the game. Everyone will focus on Jaylen Brown flushing one in Antetokounmpo’s face. And they should. It was awesome! But look at how Boston attacks the Milwaukee defense. Hayward and Horford work pick and pop. Lopez wants no part of stepping to Horford at the arc. The Bucks play what is called “drop coverage”, where Lopez drops. That doesn’t work against Boston because of Horford’s shooting.

Now look on the opposite side. Tatum does a good job of staying wide and camps in the corner. Antetokounmpo can’t leave him there. That forces Sterling Brown to cheat off Jaylen Brown to help on Horford. The minute Sterling steps towards Horford, Jaylen takes off for the rim. Hayward sees Lopez also scrambling to get back to Horford. It all results in a highlight for the Celtics: