1. The Boston Celtics didn’t win on the scoreboard in Milwaukee on Tuesday night. But the Celtics might have won long-term, despite losing to the Bucks in overtime.
In a game where Milwaukee was mostly whole (Jae Crowder will debut for them after the All-Star break and Bobby Portis is out), and Boston was missing four starters (kind of 4.5, but more on that later), the Celtics took it to overtime. If not for some breakdowns late in the extra period, Boston could have pulled off one of their most improbable victories in years.
Much like a year ago, when a shorthanded Celtics team nearly pulled off a road victory against a mostly healthy Toronto Raptors team, these sorts of games can give a team a massive shot of confidence. Boston’s second unit, and deeper, went into Milwaukee and took the second-best team in the NBA all the way to wire.
That’s how you win for losing.
2. Derrick White put in a performance worthy of the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Unfortunately, he joined the list of walking wounded, with an ear issue that kept him in Milwaukee when everyone else headed home to Boston.
But White toughed it out to play 43 minutes, and he almost helped carry the Celtics to a win.
This was an awkward angle, but White slipped this pass into Malcolm Brogdon on the BLOB play for the layup:
This is a look Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum use a lot. One comes up to screen for the other, but slips to the paint with the defender trailing. Brogdon and White hook up the layup here:
On this play, White had pushed hard in transition. After kicking it out, he doesn’t just stick where he was. White immediately relocates against a scrambled Bucks defense to get a three:
This is outstanding vision by White to find Hauser, who was just open enough at the basket:
Because his head is always up, White picks out teammates in mismatches with regularity. Here it was Blake Griffin with the smaller defender pinned on his back:
Jrue Holiday is one of the best defenders in the league. It’s a testament to how confidently White is playing right now that he took Holiday to the block here, before scoring on the turnaround with relative ease:
White did a great job repeatedly targeting one of Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton or Joe Ingles to attack off the dribble. That’s something to keep an eye on when Boston has their stars back. White made it work, so there’s no reason Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum can’t do similar damage:
When White hit this pullup triple in overtime, it looked like the improbable was going to happen. Alas…
3. Derrick White couldn’t do all on his own, and lot of other Celtics stepped up. Malcolm Brogdon was prime among them. 26 points off the bench for Brogdon, who has to be the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year at this point.
Brogdon did a really good job of getting into the paint all game long. This was a good setup for Rob Williams:
Mike Muscala is showing a knack for cutting at the right times. Brogdon set him up for the short push shot here:
Brogdon didn’t have the range for a lot of the night, but this was a good job of attacking Brook Lopez in the Bucks preferred drop coverage:
Brogdon is starting to drive to pass a bit more, which is good. This was another nice leave for Rob Williams in the paint:
But sometimes, you have to drive to score. This wrong-foot runner was a tough make by Brogdon in the overtime period:
4. It’s hard to imagine how Mike Muscala’s first three games with the Celtics could have gone better. He’s been all that was advertised and then some.
This is simple, but effective basketball. Muscala rolls right to the open space and doesn’t force the shot at the rim. He takes the easy baseline floater:
This looks like a Sam Hauser shot, only from a guy about 3-to-4 inches taller that is being guarded by an opposing big that doesn’t want to get out to the arc:
Muscala also showed he’s not just a shooter. He can finish strong too, as he did here after coming off a screen and veering into the lane:
5. Let’s pause here to acknowledge something weird on a night full of weird stuff… Rob Williams played but didn’t start. And then he played only 13 minutes in a game where Boston was missing several key players.
Following the game, Joe Mazzulla gave only short, often one-word, answers about his strategies in this game. There was no insight given as to why Williams was played, but only as a reserve.
It’s fine if Mazzulla didn’t want to give away something he feels is a strategic advantage, but then say that without directly saying it. Instead, everyone is left confused about why the man tabbed as “Boston’s most important player” was only a bit part on a shorthanded night.
6. Blake Griffin might be able to extend his career about five more years if he can keep doing this “play really well once a week” thing. He was terrific for the Celtics in this one with 15 points, six rebounds and six assists before running out of gas late in the game.
Because he’s been hitting his jumpers, Griffin drew a hard closeout here. It’s not a thunderous dunk for the finish, like in the old days, but he can still get to the rim when he needs to:
Griffin drew two on the roll here and then used his passing skill to find Grant Williams in the corner office:
With Giannis Antetokounmpo up at the level of the ball, Griffin is able to roll for the layup with no rim protector in for Milwaukee. Nice pass from Sam Hauser too:
7. Speaking of Sam Hauser, all those concerns about wing depth are lessened with his play lately. This is nice work by Hauser and Grant Williams in transition here. Williams does a nice job to get wide, which opens up the floor for Hauser to circle around the screen for the one-dribble pullup:
This play came on one of those delayed ATO sets, where Boston runs a play after the other team runs their own ATO. Hauser did a good job of setting up the trailing defender as if he’s using the staggered screens, but he splits them for the layup off a nice pass from Blake Griffin:
This is excellent off-ball work from Hauser. It’s another staggered double-screen. This time, Pat Connaughton tried to cheat by going under the first and then over the second. Hauser simply cuts off his path and sidesteps to create space for his shot:
And this one was just pure #Hausermatic:
8. Grant Williams slipped late in the game and that caused a turnover. But that shouldn’t undo all the good Williams did previously. He was terrific on defense against both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Williams also got on the glass for 10 big rebounds.
Good things always seem to come when Williams gets to work out of a post-up:
This was good stuff to split the defenders to get to the rim for the dunk:
9. Going back to Williams’ end-game turnover…he shouldn’t have been in that position. For one, he’s doing his best on a night with the stars out. But mostly, why was there no timeout?
Joe Mazzulla finished this game with two timeouts in his pocket. And it was unnecessary.
Going no-timeout is a fine strategy…when you have Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown keying the action. When you have a lineup of all backups on the floor, and exhausted, drained backups at that, you have to take over as the coach. Call a timeout and give them your best set. Give the guys a chance to win or tie the game.
10. Boston heads back home for their final game before the All-Star break with the Detroit Pistons waiting for them. A year ago, the Pistons snapped a long Celtics win streak right before the break. This time around, Boston will be looking to hit vacation with a new streak starting.
Unfortunately, we have no idea who will play for the Celtics. Derrick White stayed in Milwaukee to have his ear checked, so his availability is up in the air. Jayson Tatum was ruled out with a non-COVID illness for the Bucks game. Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart both missed with their injuries. Al Horford is continuing to deal with knee swelling. And Rob Williams hasn’t played in a back-to-back yet, even if he’s coming of a low-usage night.
No matter who takes the floor, we can expect the Celtics to give it a great effort. They’ve proven that they don’t play for moral victories in Boston, only real ones. Time to start a new win streak before the break.