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An ugly final possession stained a gutsy Celtics performance: ‘a moral victory takes away from our guys’

A short-handed Celtics squad took the Bucks to the brink of defeat, but ultimately fell short.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

With the injury bug in full effect, the Boston Celtics walked into Fiserv Forum down four starters. Despite that, they were able to take the Milwaukee Bucks to overtime and even held a 14-point lead at one point in the contest. But in the end, Milwaukee’s stars proved to be too much as the Celtics faltered.

The Bucks had clawed their way back by the end of regulation, and it took a Sam Hauser heave to send the game into OT. And once they got there, Boston got off to a hot start. Once again, however, Milwaukee was able to come back, and the Celtics had a chance to tie the game near the end of the contest, but the play backfired.

“I should have shot it - the first shot that was available,” Grant Williams told CLNS Media when asked about Boston’s final play of the game. “Just get the shot up because we were down three. We had more time on the clock to be able to get an extra play. When I shot-faked, normally, I would take the little left-hand step-back, and I was going to shoot it. When I went back, I slipped. Next thing you know, I slipped and lost the ball, and it went the other way. So, in that situation, they always tell me, ‘Shoot the ball. Let it fly.’ And I didn’t shoot it then, so I need to do a better job of that.”

Williams had the ball in his hands at the wing, but when he went to make his move, he fell down, lost the ball, and gave possession to Milwaukee. It was a sour ending to an otherwise solid game from the forward. He played a career-high 47:31 against the Bucks, guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo well and securing a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Down Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics were forced to look elsewhere for their late-game execution. The play originated with the ball in Derrick White’s hands, but Williams’ mishap was the final straw for Boston.

“I haven’t seen it yet, but my first initial [thought is that] I think I should have just shot the pull-up, which I was thinking about doing,” said White via CLNS Media when asked about the play. And then, I kind of put G[rant Williams] in a tough spot there. So that’s on me. I’ll go back and look at it and just go from just there.”

White has been on fire lately, leading the way for a consistently short-handed Celtics squad. His impressive string of play continued against the Bucks, as he poured in 27 points to go along with 12 assists. Unfortunately, when it came down to it, he passed up a shot and didn’t have a chance to get the ball back.

Boston had two timeouts left at the time of their final look, and yet both were left unused until it was too late. Head coach Joe Mazzulla has been stingy with his timeout usage this season, but in the final moments of a game where the Celtics were missing their top stars, drawing up a play could have proven to be a useful decision.

“Yeah, I should have called it,” Mazzulla said abruptly via CLNS Media. The Celtics had multiple chances to call one during the final play, and could have even gotten one off when it was clear that their final possession wasn’t going according to plan.

“We got them crossed-matched,” Mazzulla explained to CLNS Media. “We got them scrambled a little bit, and then I thought we passed up two open shots, I should have called timeout.”

A game in which Boston’s reserves put up a valiant effort ended in an empty feeling of what could have been. The Celtics had a substantial lead for the majority of the contest, but Jrue Holiday’s red-hot shooting and their own lack of a true finisher cost them at the end of the night.

Mazzulla doesn’t believe in moral victories, as they take away from the talent of the players available, but Boston’s efforts on Tuesday night could be applauded, regardless.

“I think a moral victory takes away from our guys,” Mazzulla told CLNS Media. “Our guys are NBA players. They did a great job, regardless of who’s out there. We put ourselves in a great position to win the game. We made a lot of plays, they made one or two more plays than we did. It’s two great teams playing against each other. So, a moral victory takes away from our guys who played their a***** off.”

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