For some, it might even be a good loss because it, combined with Philadelphia stumbling in Toronto, has the Celtics in line for the 3-seed. Given the desire of many to avoid a first-round matchup with Brooklyn, that’s probably a good thing.
In the end, more than seeding, this was an encouraging game. Once again, Boston proved that they’ll fight every night. No matter who is available or who the opponent is, the Celtics believe they can win. That’s a championship attitude.
2. Defending inside without Robert Williams is tough. Take Al Horford out of the lineup and it’s even harder. Trying to do it against Giannis Antetokounmpo is nearly an impossible task.
The Bucks did score 58 points in the paint, so this isn’t any sort of argument that the Celtics did a good job. But Boston did battle inside.
This isn’t in the paint, but Grant Williams does an outstanding job of stripping Antetokounmpo before racing the other way for the layup:
Fine, this isn’t in the paint either, but can’t remember Boston blocking many Khris Middleton jumpers over the years, and he’s dropped a lot of them on the Celtics! But Grant Williams gets Middleton here:
Also rare: Seeing Antetokounmpo get blocked at the rim on a Eurostep, but Jaylen Brown did just that:
Later in the fourth quarter, Marcus Smart made a Defensive Player of the Year play against the MVP candidate:
No, it wasn’t a virtuoso defensive game from the NBA’s best defensive team. But the Celtics worked their tails off against one of the best teams in basketball. That’s great stuff.
3. The ball movement was again outstanding. Boston tallied 30 assists on 43 baskets, which is a great percentage.
Jaylen Brown was the focal point of the offense in this one, with Jayson Tatum sitting out to rest his knee. As it has been with Tatum, Brown kept the ball moving and created for others.
This is a good push in transition to draw the defense to open up Marcus Smart for the three:
Drive-and-kick was the theme of the night for the Celtics offense. That’s good, because that translates to the playoffs. Great execution by Smart to find Sam Hauser (more on him soon!) here:
Attacking a mismatch isn’t always about the ballhandler getting the score. Sometimes you attack to cause help to come, which opens up someone else. Good stuff from Brown here:
That assist above was one of Brown’s 11 on the night, as he put up the second triple-double of his career with 22 points and 10 rebounds to go along with the 11 dimes. That’s a long way from that zero-assist disaster earlier this season.
4. Marcus Smart took over in the third quarter. He had 14 points, four assists and two steals while playing the entire period. There was a stretch when Smart did whatever he wanted and we’re going to highlight that here.
A behind-the-back pass in traffic? Yeah, Marcus Smart is a point guard:
Do you prefer more traditional passing from your point guard? How about setting up your big for and and-1?
The Celtics have gotten really good at cutting backdoor when Smart gets into the paint. Sam Hauser is the beneficiary of a smart cut here:
Another game, another Smart shining as the point guard performance. Let’s never talk about if he can lead the offense again, deal?
5. Ime Udoka said he was proud of his guys for the fight they showed. He also called it great experience for some of the deeper rotation players.
However, Udoka, didn’t let the Celtics off the hook. He called out turnovers, especially ones late in the game as an issue. He talked about the lack of securing rebounds as a problem, in addition to interior defense.
It would have been easy for Udoka just to lavish praise on his undermanned squad for battling. But Udoka balanced that with constructive criticism of where the team needs to improve and clean things up. As the team has grown and improved, so has the coach. Udoka has struck the right balance in leading his team.
6. Payton Pritchard has clinched his rotation spot. Might his lack of size become a possible issue in a playoff series? Sure. But Boston is good enough defensively to help and scram him out of tough spots. More importantly, everything else Pritchard brings more than offsets his being a smaller defender.
What was nice in this game, as that we saw more movement scoring from Pritchard vs the deep spot-ups we’re used to. Teams close hard on Pritchard, which makes having something else in his game important. Pat Connaughton is rushing at him before Pritchard even has the ball here. Nice fake and step into the pullup by Pritchard:
Part of Boston’s previous success against Milwaukee was Kemba Walker attacking Brook Lopez in drop coverage with his pullup jumper. This is a bigtime shot from Pritchard emulating that same sort of attack:
This is a good hit-ahead from Derrick White to start the play. Pritchard then does a really nice job of using his body to shield off the defender as he got to the layup:
7. Unfortunately, Payton Pritchard’s draft classmate Aaron Nesmith hasn’t done enough to clinch a rotation spot. Nesmith’s energy is off the charts. But that’s all you can consistently count on from him right now. That’s great, but it’s not really enough.
Nesmith went 0-for-3 in this one, with all three misses being three-pointers. He also had two turnovers, including a really bad one on an inbounds underneath the Celtics own basket.
In a spot where Nesmith could have made a case that he should get some playoff minutes, he faltered. Enough so that he might have been passed up, should the opportunity to go deeper arise.
8. The guy who might have passed Aaron Nesmith is Sam Hauser. He’s continued to shoot the lights out whenever he’s gotten a chance to play. Hauser went 3-of-4 from deep, and had the nice baseline cut from earlier in the Takeaways. He was also competitive on the boards and on defense too.
But Hauser is here to do this. Drive and kick, swing, drive and kick again:
Hauser is very Duncan Robinson-like with his quick and high release. This looked a lot like Robinson on the one-dribble pullup off the screen:
Hauser probably doesn’t defend well enough at this point for Ime Udoka to trust playing him any kind of regular minutes in the postseason. But if Boston needs some shooting, Hauser is the guy to go to vs Nesmith.
9. Calling this now: Derrick White is going to win Sixth Man of the Year next season. He just fits in so perfectly with this Celtics team.
With Jayson Tatum out, Boston needed White to provide some additional scoring and he did. He’s a real weapon in transition:
White has found his shot again. After a slump to start his Boston tenure, White is up to 46.2% from behind the arc over the last three weeks. That’s why shots like this are welcomed ones:
10. One game left. How quickly the back half of the regular season has gone. Time flies when you’re having fun, right?
The Celtics still have an outside shot at the 2-seed. They’d need Milwaukee to toss away at least one game, and that’s certain possible. However, the Bucks don’t seem to have any fear of playing the Brooklyn Nets in the first round.
At this point, it’s unclear how the Memphis Grizzlies will handle Game 82. It’s not overly clear how Boston will handle it either. But Ime Udoka hinted postgame that there’s a lot of time-off coming and he doesn’t want his guys to get too rusty.
The guess here is that Boston plays their regulars, while Memphis either sits guys out entirely, or they play brief cameos. That will put the Celtics in position to get the 2-seed or the 3-seed. That third position seems most likely at this point. And that will likely come with a matchup against the Chicago Bulls.
But enough of that for now. One game left in a roller coaster ride of a regular season. Let’s just enjoy that homecourt advantage in the first round is clinched and that this team has flexibility in how they play out Game 82 vs having to fight and scrap just to get into the postseason.