1. All is not lost. Yes, the Boston Celtics missed a chance to take back control of the series against the Milwaukee Bucks, but all is not lost. Game 4 is a must-win, but Boston is perfectly capable of doing it.
Milwaukee played really well for two stretches of the game: The third quarter (which will cover in detail in the next takeaway) and in the final minute of the game. Other than that, Boston outplayed Milwaukee.
Now, none of that really matters, because the Bucks won. But just like Game 1, the Celtics shouldn’t be discouraged. They almost stole one where their best player played terribly (more on that later) and there were a lot of other issues (more on that later too).
Win Game 4 and control shifts back to Boston, as does the series too.
2. The Celtics third quarter stunk more than the milk you forgot to throw out before leaving on a two-week vacation. It was some of the worst basketball Boston has played this season, let alone the playoffs.
Boston shot 6-of-20 in the period, including just 1-of-7 from behind the arc. Even worse? They had seven turnovers in the third and that helped lead to Milwaukee scoring 18 points in transition.
The Bucks didn’t shoot particularly well, just 12-of-28, but 28 field goal attempts are a lot in one quarter. Especially when you factor in that they also took seven free throws.
If not for the mess of a third quarter, the Celtics probably win this game. And that’s disappointing, because most of Boston’s errors were self-inflicted and unforced.
3. Speaking of bad transition defense, this was early in the game, but it was awful.
The Celtics are back, but no one gets matched up and it results in an easy three. It was so bad that Ime Udoka took an immediate timeout to rip into his guys:
Plays like that may not seem big at the time, but they matter just as much on the scoreboard as the ones at the end of the game do.
4. Let’s switch to some positives, shall we? Al Horford had a monster game. 22 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Just a huge game for the veteran big man.
He’s found his three-point stroke here in the playoffs. After a disappointing 33.6% in the regular season, Horford is knocking down 50% in the postseason. When you’re shooting that well, you deserve the second chance:
In one stretch in the fourth quarter, Horford scored seven straight points to keep Boston in the game. Marcus Smart knows who has the hot hand and this whole slow setup is to make sure Horford gets an open look:
This is a good job by Horford to just keep moving into space to make himself available. This was one of Jayson Tatum’s few offensive highlights, as he zips the pass to Horford, who then goes up quick before Giannis Antetokounmpo can challenge:
5. Jaylen Brown also had a huge night. He finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Brown was regularly a one-man transition game too, as he was ripping and running off the boards.
This was a really good find by Brown to end the first half, as he picked out Grant Williams sitting in his corner office:
Here is a good example of Brown being a one-man fastbreak. He comes up with the loose ball and races the other way before Eurostepping for the layup:
After a good hit-ahead pass from Marcus Smart, Brown did a good job attacking before the Bucks could set their defense. This may not have actually been a foul (one of many mystifying call throughout the game), but this was good basketball from Brown to draw the and-1:
6. Unfortunately, the Celtics other star didn’t show up. Jayson Tatum had a horrible night. He was just 4-of-19 from the floor, including 0-for-6 on three-pointers. It got so bad, that Tatum was passing up easy shots in the paint and at the rim.
More than any other player, Tatum has seemed bothered by the Bucks length inside. Yes, he’s had a couple of shots that should have goaltends, but that’s a very small percentage of his overall misses in the paint. Tatum is shooting just 21.4% on shots in the paint in the playoffs. That’s incredibly poor.
But what’s worse than the bad shooting is not shooting. Boston will struggle to win if Tatum has bad shooting games. They won’t win if he turns into Ben Simmons and starts passing up shots.
7. Derrick White’s Game 2 wasn’t as bad as the 0-for-6 shooting seemed. He contributed in a lot of other ways. In Game 3, White’s shooting stepped up to match his other contributions. White was also one of Boston’s most aggressive drivers, as he drew eight free throw attempts on the night.
Here’s a good example of that aggression, as White finished the runner after contact:
He also hit 2-of-3 from downtown in the game. This was a confident pullup to keep the Celtics within contact in the fourth quarter:
8. It’s been a little bit of a weird series for Rob Williams. He’s clearly not effective guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo 1-on-1. Unlike Al Horford and Grant Williams, who set a wide base and have the strength to take the hits from Giannis without being moved, Rob Williams gets blown through.
But he’s still contributing. This shot is one that is coming along and will eventually be huge for Williams’ offensive game:
There aren’t a ton of bigs that are guarding a perimeter player on a switch and then sending their three-pointer back the other way like this:
This was also a big momentum swing, as Grayson Allen clearly pushed and then held Jayson Tatum as he went for the loose ball. Then, Jrue Holiday banged in a three the other way. Just a terrible missed call.
9. The above play was just one in what is sure to be on a compilation of officiating low-lights the Celtics are going to send to the NBA league office for review.
If you’re a long-time reader of the Takeaways, you know this space doesn’t often bring up officiating as one of the takeaways. It’s rarely as bad as fans of the alleged aggrieved team make it out to be. This is not one of those cases.
The play we showed above was one example, but there were countless others. Ime Udoka was so frustrated with the lack of calls when Giannis Antetokounmpo slammed into various Celtics that he asked the officials to take a look. Udoka said the answer he got back was “If they don’t fall down, we’re not going to call it.”
Do the Celtics have some big-time floppers? They sure do. Marcus Smart could retire today and make a very substantial living teaching “The Art of Flopping” classes. Grant Williams is also very good at exaggerating contact. Jayson Tatum is prone to the occasional flop, as is Derrick White.
But the officials want that? They need players to fall down to make an obvious charge call? That’s ridiculous and just inviting for players to get hurt.
Moving past that idiocy, there were the back-to-back endgame plays that were missed. Yes, Jayson Tatum pushes off regularly when he drives and goes to his step-back. That doesn’t mean you can’t call it when Jrue Holiday obviously does the same.
And, finally…having watched every game of Marcus Smart’s career, and most of them twice, he was 100% shooting on that last play. There was no time for a “rip-through move” to take place there. For the officials to call that a non-shooting foul is ridiculous. Smart was clearly jumping and into his shot motion when the foul was called.
Do yourselves a favor, don’t read the L2M report when it comes out. Nothing will change the result of the game, assuming the obvious mistakes are even acknowledged at all.
10. Despite the above, the Celtics had a chance to win Game 3, which is remarkable after the mess of a third quarter they played. As Ime Udoka said postgame, Boston has to be better about playing through periods where they feel calls have gone against them. There were a couple of points where a lack of composure cost the team.
The last minute also featured two open threes that could have pushed Boston’s lead to four and they missed both of them. The Bucks made both of their final shots. Officiating issues or not, Milwaukee made plays at the end of the game. Boston didn’t.
The good news? Much like after Game 1, the Celtics corrections that need to be made are pretty obvious and shouldn’t be hard to make. There’s also reason to believe Jayson Tatum will break out of his slump with a huge game. That’s generally how it’s gone for him in the past.
On the Bucks side, they got a huge effort from Giannis Antetokounmpo and barely won. They did win, which is the important thing, but Boston was right there. This series is far from over, but Game 4 is a must-win. Do that and the Celtics wrest back control as the series heads home for Game 5.
Game 4 is Monday, May 9 at 7:30 PM ET on TNT.