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Celtics focused on experience and progression heading into postseason

Marcus Smart and Ime Udoka explained the importance of tight games and progressing as a team after a tough loss to the Bucks.

Boston Celtics v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics lost a heartbreaker to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, 127-121. Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Robert Williams were all out, which left the Celtics without three of their regular starters. Despite that, they were able to keep things close against the reigning champs.

Boston has just one game left in their schedule, meaning that the postseason is right around the corner. With the loss, they fell back to the three seed, but there’s still room for movement in the standings. The Celtics could fall as low as four or climb as high as two still.

Despite all eyes being on the standings, the Celtics are still worried about one thing: preparing for the playoffs. After the game, Marcus Smart was asked about what their performance against Milwaukee says about them heading into the playoffs. He had nothing but praise for his squad:

It just shows the progression that we’ve been we’ve been making as a team and individually. You got guys stepping up who I’m sure a lot of people 1) probably didn’t know, 2) never heard of, 3) wasn’t expecting… We didn’t have everybody (but) we still gave them a run for their money and almost won it. So, I think that right there just speaks to the resilience that this team has individually and altogether.

A couple of non-rotational guys earned some big-time minutes in Milwaukee. Sam Hauser played just under 18 and Luka Kornet notched around 16. Hauser dropped 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting from behind the arc and Kornet put up two points and five rebounds.

Smart was also asked about how he’s feeling heading into the postseason and according to him, this is the best he’s felt heading into the playoffs in a while:

I feel great, actually. This is the first time in my career I can actually say that. I’m usually beaten up by this time. But with the way we’ve been playing, the wins and the way we’ve been winning have allowed, not just me myself, but my teammates to get a lot of rest and save our bodies and be fresh.

Boston’s point guard put on a show against the Bucks, dropping 29 points and seven assists while also putting on his usual defensive show. He led the game in scoring, all while shooting an efficient 10-of-16 from the field and 7-of-12 from three-point range.

And while staying fresh is crucial, Ime Udoka also expressed how crucial games like these are. He was asked about the importance of playing in tight contests ahead of the playoffs, especially for some of the less experienced guys on the team.

There is a ton of value in that for them. Tight, tough situations, we saw that in the Toronto game as well, some guys out there, in a tight ball game. Experience going forward for the playoffs, this is what you’re gonna see… It’s invaluable. And the thing we learned, or kind of know about ourselves, is that’s how we’re going to play all year, regardless of who’s in and who’s out.

Most of Boston’s young guys don’t have much experience going on a deep playoff run. Grant Williams was on the 2020 team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals, but he only played 10.0 minutes a night that postseason in the bubble. And Payton Pritchard has only ever played in the five playoff games last season. Even Derrick White has only appeared in 10 playoff games, with his last postseason appearance being all the way back in the 2018-19 season.

Boston’s final game of the season is on Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies. A win would secure the Celtics at least the third seed, but a loss could lead to them falling to four. The game is set to tip-off at 7:00 p.m. and can be streamed on TNT.