This Celtics team have run into their first major losing streak of this otherwise incredible season. They have lost six of their last eight games and are on a two-game slide now. Everything has gone wrong these last two weeks right as the team has ramped up their schedule having little rest in between games. It may not look good now, but every team goes through a stretch like this and before the panic happens, let us all see if this team can right the ship.
The Milwaukee game was a perfect analogy to this losing stint. The team once again started out cold, while on the other end the Bucks started the game hitting 10 of their 11 three-point attempts. A similar thing happened the night before against the Detroit Pistons when their team shot over 60% for the whole game, and it just felt like it was another inevitable loss on incredible shooting from the other side.
The Celtics went down early and looked as if they were going to continue the trend from the past few weeks. This was against the best regular season team along with missing Jaylen Brown for the night. They were down 27 points at one point in the first half with all seemingly lost. However, this team stayed the course and clawed back into the fight cutting the lead to six by the third quarter.
Unfortunately, more defensive breakdowns and some clutch buckets by the other side, and the Celtics were back down 22 just like that. Again, the team could have packed it in and been on their way back home to Boston, but they continued to fight showing defensive promise closing down Giannis on a few key possessions. The Celtics fought all the way back to four with just about a minute to go in the game, but there was just not enough time to complete the comeback.
The Celtics had two separate runs that showed this team can battle back against any deficit. Kemba Walker took over offensively scoring 40 points. Yes, the ultimate outcome was not what the team wanted, but there were promising signs against the best team in the Eastern Conference, a team who knocked them out of the playoffs last year and who they may see this year as well. Any little defensive scheme that worked in this game can be filed away by Brad Stevens for later use.
In the first minutes of the third quarter, the Bucks regressed back to their mean a bit shooting the ball. They started out missing more shots that they were hitting earlier in the game. This is also attributed to the Celtics’ defense stepping up to a level they did not have in the first half. The team did a better job shadowing the main guys for the Bucks. Whenever Khris Middleton, the Celtic-killer, and Giannis Antetokounmpo touch the ball an off-ball defender would shade over to help on whatever the switch was. This leaves Dante DiVincenzo or Brook Lopez or whoever else open to beat the Celtics.
If this happens, it is just what it is, but it limits the possibility of Giannis or Middleton to dominate. Here, that is exactly what Jayson Tatum did. He is thinking to shade over to help Kemba on a mismatch blocking Middleton’s shot. Of course, the ball goes right back to Giannis under the rim, a huge gut punch after the Celtics cut it to a six-point deficit in the third quarter.
Another good clip of this was the highlight for the Celtics defensively on the night. DAniel Theis, who had one of his better games, shades off Lopez seeing the pick-and-roll coming between Giannis and Middleton. Theis’ assignment there is to help weak side in a situation just like this one. He times it perfectly and meets Giannis at the rim stuffing his shot, but even if Giannis just missed the layup without the block, it would have still been a perfect defensive play.
Finally, we have a clip of Tatum once again shading over and stopping the Giannis drive against Semi Ojeleye. Ojeleye did a good job getting in front of him while he had a full head of steam, but then, Tatum crashes down a bit to stop Giannis on the ball again. If Giannis kicks that ball out to DiVincenzo, and he hits the three, so be it. The Celtics defensive scheme would rather have the game come down to him (he did actually score 19 points in this one) than Giannis on a fast break lay up.
These are just a few of the examples from this game that were promising during the two comebacks orchestrated by the Celtics. Again, the result was not what anyone wanted, but there is still no reason to get upset over this stretch. Every team goes through a slump like this, but it is what the team does to get through it which means the most in the future. The takeaway from this Bucks game were very promising. This shadow help defense is important to implement against them. The Celtics showed the resilience of a squad who knows at the core they are a top team in the league. All they need to do is get through this schedule gauntlet and take one game at a time.