1. Game 2 started about as you expected for the Celtics, especially with the Bucks putting Nikola Mirotic in the starting lineup. Boston attacked him with both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, generally in space and off the dribble. This got Brown five free throw attempts in the first quarter. Unfortunately, as Milwaukee amped up their switching on defense, Boston got out of sorts and went away from this approach.
2. Pretty regularly this space has been critical of Terry Rozier for what he’s not: a playmaker who can competently run an offense. But we need to give credit where credit is due for what he does well, and one of those things is rebound the ball. Rozier is one of the best rebounding guards in the NBA. He has nine and eight rebounds in the first two games against the Bucks, often on plays where he gets way up for the ball like he does here:
3. Al Horford looked like an All-NBA level player in Game 1. In Game 2, he was still good, but as things got away from the Celtics, they got away from Horford too. He seemed to have issues with his passing and ballhandling all night, as he finished with five of Boston’s 13 turnovers. As we often say: Kyrie Irving is Boston’s best play, but Horford is Boston’s most important player. It’s far from all on Horford, but his struggles matched the struggles of the team.
4. What the Celtics needed to continue to do more of was to find the mismatches and abuse them. Here, the team is patient and finds Horford against Sterling Brown. That’s a no-chance matchup for the Bucks. Horford scores easily. Also note that he finished with a strong dunk vs trying to lay the ball in. That shows he’s caught on to Milwaukee’s very good help defense at the rim.
5. A lot has been made in recent days about Kyrie Irving throwing behind-the-back passes. It’s not just to make the play look good. On this clip, it’s the only way to get it to Marcus Morris (who played another really good game!) in time for the shot. Irving isn’t throwing it over Giannis Antetokounmpo or George Hill. There are times the behind-the-back pass is the right one and Irving usually makes the right choice when to break it out.
6. Where did it all fall apart for Boston? In the third quarter. The Bucks outscored the Celtics 39-18 in the period to open up a 25-point lead at the end of the period. The game was functionally over at that point. Milwaukee did it on the back of some hot shooting, as they went 6-of-9 from behind the arc in the quarter and made 9-of-10 free throws. They continually generated great looks against a scattered Celtics defense.
7. As both Brad Stevens and Mike Budenholzer noted postgame, a lot of those looks were created by the Bucks getting repeated stops on the defense end. At one point, Boston scored just once over a span of 15 possessions. That chunk of the game was part of a 24-2 Milwaukee run, as the Celtics missed nine shots and turned it over five times. Defense was creating offense in a big way for the Bucks.
8. After Game 1, Mike Budenholzer received a lot of criticism for not adjusting his team’s style of play to match Boston’s style. In Game 2, the Bucks didn’t change where they defended, as far as what zones they wanted to force the Celtics to shoot from. That’s too hard to do with one day off between games. But the Bucks did change how they defended. In the regular season, only the Orlando Magic switched less than Milwaukee did. In Game 2, the Bucks started switching on a pretty regular basis, especially off the ball.
The switching caused a couple of things for the Celtics. They were slow to get into their actions. This ended up causing Boston to take some tough, forced shots late in the shot-clock. It also made it more difficult for the Celtics to find the mismatches, because they had to reverse the ball. Expect Boston to speed up the pace, not necessarily of shots, but of setting up the offense. That’s one way to give themselves enough time to find those matchups to attack.
9. An example of how out of sorts the Boston offense was can be seen on this play. The spacing is messy. When Jayson Tatum (who has been invisible as a scorer in the first two games of the series) drives to the hoop, Hayward is there. Hayward tries to space to the corner, but Brown is already there. Tatum passes the ball, but neither Hayward nor Brown knew who the pass was for. The result is the type of sloppy turnover that plagued the Celtics all game long:
10. Everyone knows this has been a trying year for Kyrie Irving. He spent a lot of the year trying to figure out how to lead a team and had plenty of missteps along the way. But after Game 2, he put the loss on his shoulders. Each one of Irving’s postgame responses involved him taking blame and saying he needs to be better. That’s real leadership. Here’s the standout quotes from a guy who seems like he finally gets it:
Kyrie on his shooting struggles: "Some shots go in, some don't. I need to be more efficient in controlling tempo and pace. They did a great job of switching. I need to be better about making the right decisions. They controlled the tempo of the game."— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) May 1, 2019
Kyrie: "We need to control the sorts of threes they were getting. Khris (Middleton) was getting good ones. It's my job to set the tempo for our team. I already have a clue how I want to play in Game 3."— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) May 1, 2019
Kyrie on feeling the burden of carrying the team: "This is what I signed up for. This is what Boston traded for me for. This is what you live for. This is why you play, for the playoffs."— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) May 1, 2019