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Schroder, timely defensive stops propel Celtics to OT win

Schroder tallied 38 points as Celtics hold on against shorthanded Bucks

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

A mad dash by the Milwaukee Bucks at the end of regulation gave the Boston Celtics a scare, but in the end they had the hottest player in the gym on Friday night: Dennis Schroder.

While Friday might come known as the Dennis Schroder game, every Celtic stepped up admirably on defense in the third quarter while the offense went nuclear. Solid performances from Jayson Tatum (27 points, 11 rebounds), Robert Williams (12 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks) and Marcus Smart (19 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals) flanked Schroder’s heroics and gave Boston just enough to hang on for the victory.

After trailing by four at the half, the Celts put up 37 points to Milwaukee’s 26 in the third frame. A few shot-for-shot exchanges late broke the game into an excitement craze, but it was Boston’s sturdy defense in those moments that swung the game in their favor.

The Bucks entered the contest without All-Stars Giannis Antetokounmpo or Khris Middleton, as well as stretch big man Brook Lopez. With 50% of their average point total missing from those three alone, Milwaukee would need to find a new source of offense. Their solution was to hoist as many 3-pointers as possible, go small almost all evening and give the green light to anyone who was open. Those games can be mighty dangerous, as one or many players catching fire can keep the Bucks in it.

Out of the gates, it was Schroder who was the aggressor. He posted 14 points in the opening quarter, and was fairly consistent throughout. In the second half, Schroder’s major push was through utilizing his quickness to blow past defenders. A nice shot fake could get unsuspecting Bucks in the air time and time again, allowing the quick point guard to get into the lane and finish:

A player like Schroder doesn’t just provide scoring; he provides energy. Anybody that fast is an energizer to their team’s offense, creating easy looks for himself and others. The assists didn’t show tonight, and Schroder was able to take advantage of Milwaukee’s lack of rim protection to finish plays on his own once he broke the first line of defense. But on a night when the Celtics could be described as sluggish elsewhere, it was his jolt of energy that carried Boston through.

When the game broke open for a moment in that third quarter, it wasn’t just because the Celtics started drilling shots. Boston had several great defensive possessions in the middle of that third frame. Once again, teams trying to test Al Horford’s aptitude on switches has turned out to be a win for the Celtics. Friday’s victim: Jrue Holiday. When Jrue tried to go at Horford off the bounce in a late-clock situation, the veteran big held his own, forcing a pass and a frantic corner 3-pointer from Milwaukee:

Six Bucks finished in double-figures and seven of the nine who logged a minute sunk a deep ball. Milwaukee attempted 47 on the evening, and they got hot at the right time in the fourth to storm back into the game. Boston’s seven-point edge after three stayed consistently above five points until a Grayson Allen 3-pointer with 3:42 left cut the game to 4. Allen had nine of the team’s final sixteen in the last four minutes, including a fantastic step-back to force overtime. He got hot at the right time and forced bonus basketball despite solid defense from Marcus Smart:

Schroder came out and owned overtime, scoring 8 of Boston’s first 10 points. The Bucks never gained the lead in the extra frame, and the contest didn’t really feel in doubt.

The key segment, which put the icing on the cake, came with back-to-back buckets for Schroder. Sandwiched in the middle was a key defensive stop by the Celtics with Robert Williams altering shots at the rim, one of the most important sequences of the evening. The crowd went into a frenzy with Schroder showcasing both his shot-making and quickness on consecutive possessions.

Games aren’t played on paper. It’d be too easy to expect the Celtics to simply trounce the Bucks without Giannis and Middleton. After all, Boston is missing Jaylen Brown, too. But we saw the best version of Schroder to carry the Celtics offense through, a nice scoring spurt from the entire gang in the third quarter, several defensive possessions where their defense shut down the Bucks and the resolve to bounce back despite Milwaukee’s constant hanging around.

Most importantly, this could be the performance that allows Schroder to finally become comfortable in what he’s asked to do in Boston. It’s been a rollercoaster start to his Celtics career, but the 37 point outburst is a reminder of what he’s capable of when he’s on. As head coach Ime Udoka put it postgame, “He’s finding his way. He’s brought his bench role to the starting lineup...He got hot late and we rode his hand there.”

These Celtics have more resilience than they get credit for. Friday’s win will be one of those forgotten efforts once spring rolls around, but the victory was a crucial one. Defeating a shorthanded Bucks team, defending homecourt and hanging on in yet another overtime game are all results the Celtics should never apologize for.

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