1. “That was Celtics basketball”
That quote was from Jaylen Brown postgame after the Boston Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks to even their second round series at 1-1. Brown was spot on.
Boston’s defense was solid enough in Game 1, but their offense was kind of a mess. Turnovers, missing passes, turning down good shots and not playing physical enough were all problems. In Game 2, the 2022 Celtics showed up.
Ime Udoka made several gameplan adjustments and the players executed them. It wasn’t perfect, especially at points in the second half, but Boston led by as many as 26 points, never trailed and were never really threatened after halftime.
Tough and physical on both ends, playing together, and digging deep through injuries. Celtics basketball indeed.
2. Jaylen Brown showed up to TD Garden and was on the court working three hours before the tip. He was locked in from the jump and it showed. Brown scored 25 points in the first half, and he did it in a variety of ways.
This is a shot the Celtics can get with regularity against the Bucks base defense. In Game 1, they turned it down repeatedly, as they took just three midrange shots. Here, Brown accepts it and gets the shooter’s roll:
The quick start for Brown translated to the defensive end too. He shuts off Jrue Holiday here and then finishes by blocking Holiday’s fadeaway:
Brown breaking Grayson Allen’s ankles sent the crowd into hysterics:
When you’ve got it going, the basket looks as big as the ocean, no matter where you shoot it from or how you’re defended:
3. While Jaylen Brown did the heavy lifting early on, Jayson Tatum got things going in the second half. On three straight possessions late in the third quarter, Tatum seemed to remember he’s bigger and better than Wesley Matthews.
First, Tatum can get this shot whenever he wants. He just has to be willing to rise and fire over the smaller defenders:
On the next trip, Tatum was called for a somewhat dubious offensive foul. But instead of going into a funk, he got back to work on the third possession to drive for an and-1 chance:
4. In Game 1, Ime Udoka was fine with the Celtics taking 50 three-pointers. What he didn’t like was how those shots were generated. Udoka stressed that Boston is better when they attack the paint and find shooters. Drive-and-kicks and multiple attacks were the theme of the game for the Celtics offense.
This is outstanding offense. Jaylen Brown drives, which gets the Bucks into rotation. Derrick White has the secondary attack, while Milwaukee is scrambled. In the end, Brown ends up shooting a three against a late closeout from Brook Lopez, who wants no part of defending out by the arc:
We’ll hit on this more later, but Boston did a good job in the first half of pushing the ball. That allowed them to avoid going against a set defense. This is a good push by Jayson Tatum to get into the teeth of the defense before finding Grant Williams:
This play starts with Tatum accepting two on the ball and he skips it to White. White goes right into a dribble-drive before kicking to Williams. From there, because Lopez first picked up Tatum, then dropped on the White drive, it’s an easy swing to Al Horford to the triple:
On this one, Boston used most of the shot-clock. But notice that Brown hits the paint before kicking to White. The Bucks defense is scrambled, because Giannis Antetokounmpo had to step over to help as Brown drove. With everyone out of sorts, White swings to Tatum and Tatum takes one dribble before firing the laser to Horford for the layup:
5. The above is what Ime Udoka was talking about with generating different looks. Yes, Boston had a lot of open and wide-open shots in Game 1, but they came early in the clock because they took the first available shot.
It’s threading the needle to find the balance between good shot and great shot, without overpassing. The Celtics hit it right in the center of the eye time and time again in Game 2.
The shot profile overall was better too:
Corner threes – 9-of-17
Above the break threes – 11-of-26
Midrange shots – 6-of-15 (not a great percentage, but the threat was there)
At the rim/in the paint – 12-of-22
That’s better balance, even if three-heavy. But it’s how the looks were created, against scrambled defense after moving and driving, that really matters.
6. On the other end, the Celtics controlled Giannis Antetokounmpo again. But this time it came with a major adjustment from Game 1. Boston rarely doubled him. And if they did, it was only very late in the clock. Al Horford and Grant Williams again combined as the primary defenders on Antetokounmpo and they again held up very well. Here’s their combined numbers in Games 1 and 2:
Horford defending Antetokounmpo – 54 possessions, 19 points on 6-of-22 shooting, five turnovers
Williams defending Antetokounmpo – 52 possessions, 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting, two turnovers
Because of Horford and Williams’ ability to contain Antetokounmpo without help, Ime Udoka abandoned the double-team strategy. Here’s Williams stoning Antetokounmpo in the post before coming up with the strip:
The Bucks tried to counter Boston defending Antetokounmpo 1-on-1 by using him as a screener. It worked for a while, until the Celtics adjusted and pre-switched some actions or fought through the screens and didn’t switch. It also helps when Rob Williams is lurking to clean things up on the backside:
7. Another key to the Celtics success against Giannis Antetokounmpo was more a team-wide accomplishment than anything an individual did. Boston got eviscerated in transition defense in Game 1. The Bucks had 44 transition points, including 28 fastbreak points. In Game 2, Milwaukee had just 15 transition points, including only six fastbreak points.
Some of that was an increased focus by the Celtics on getting back on defense. But a big part of it was Boston limited turnovers. They had 18 giveaways in Game 1, including several live-ball turnovers that directly resulted in Bucks baskets. In Game 2, the turnovers were limited to 13 and only four were live-ball.
We talk a lot about defense turning into offense, but sometimes offense can turn into defense. Milwaukee had to play against a set Boston defense a lot more often in Game 2 and it made a huge difference.
8. As for the Celtics, they did a much better job pushing pace themselves and finding easy offense. This was especially true in the first half.
Yes, this is a late-clock look, but Jaylen Brown doesn’t slow it down and dribble into a contested three. He attacks, forces help and finds Jayson Tatum for the layup:
Look where Al Horford starts this clip. He’s on the baseline after contesting a shot at the rim. Derrick White collects the rebound and pushes. Notice how White holds it up ever so slightly, as Horford sprints the floor before White dimes him up for the layup:
This is a true fastbreak and turning defense into offense. Tatum gets he steal and he’s off the other way before leaving it for Rob Williams for the loud finish:
Stealing easy offense is huge against a defense as good as Milwaukee’s is.
9. The Bucks made a couple of mini-runs in the fourth quarter, but Boston kept making plays to keep that at bay. Jayson Tatum starts this play by getting into the paint before kicking to Jaylen Brown. Then Tatum gets up and finds his way to the corner for one of the most open three-pointers he’s probably ever had:
On the next trip, Jaylen Brown collects the offensive rebound before finishing off the spinning layup:
A couple of plays later, Tatum again drives and relocates for another three:
Something else to notice on all three of these plays? Giannis Antetokounmpo is exhausted. He doesn’t contest Tatum on the first three. He doesn’t challenge Brown on the putback. And then he doesn’t even bother to stick with Tatum as he relocates on this last one.
10. Playoff series are all about adjustments. Boston made a bunch in Game 2. Now, expect the Bucks to have some counters as the series shifts to Milwaukee.
In one sense, the Bucks did their job by getting on in Boston. They have homecourt advantage now. But on the other hand, the Celtics had so many fixable things from Game 1 and they cleaned up most of them. Ime Udoka called out that the team still missed some drop-off passes to the bigs off drives and that they passed up some good looks inside too. Presumably that will be a focus before Game 3.
Now, it’s about being prepared for what the Bucks might do differently. Milwaukee had some success with Giannis Antetokounmpo working as a screener in the second half of Game 2. Boston will have to have a plan for that.
With three days off, both sides have plenty of time to think through changes. But they also have plenty of time to overthink things too. Not getting too cute is just as important as finding a new wrinkle. And, of course, three days off are huge for Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart to get their treatment for their injuries.
Game 3 is Saturday, May 7 at 3:30 PM on ABC.