Folks, the Boston Celtics are pretty good. What the Celtics did to the Milwaukee Bucks in front of their own fans tonight could be classified as bullying in 48 states after destroying them 140-99. That score is actually kind of generous considering what actually happened. Jaylen Brown (30 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists) and Jayson Tatum (40 points, 8 rebounds, 8 three-pointers) reminded the world (and Celtics doomers) that it doesn’t matter whether they’re home or on the road; they can win anywhere.
Tatum and Brown combined for 42 points in just the first half. Jaylen Brown kicked things off in the first quarter, erupting for 17 points in just the first frame and finishing the first half with 20 points. When Brown checked out, Tatum rediscovered his shooting stroke and hit the Bucks with a flurry of 3-pointers and hard drives to the basket. His in-and-out dribble faked out everyone including the cameras – multiple times.
The Celtics entered halftime with a 28-point lead, the largest halftime deficit of the season for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks (who have won 26 of the last 30 games).
Coming out of halftime, the Celtics didn’t miss a beat, extending the lead to 34 points early in the third. The lead went as high as 49 points.
The Celtics won’t shoot like this in all if any playoff games against the Bucks in the playoffs, but that’s not really the point. While tonight’s shots did go in, Boston wasn’t exactly limited inside the arc. Boston got six free points just by Marcus Smart spamming the backdoor pass to Brown for the easy dunk. Tatum got to the rim at will. The best shooter in the NBA got a bunch of wide-open looks. Malcolm Brogdon was looking in the rearview mirror for his defender each time he even looked at the rim.
The ease with which Boston got its quick and slow opportunities is an excellent sign. This was an end-of-March regular season game, but this fully healthy Milwaukee team has some real questions to answer about how they’re planning to guard Boston in the playoffs.
Speaking of defense, Joe Mazzulla went weird, giving Marcus Smart the opening defensive assignment on Giannis Antetokounmpo. This allowed Boston to set up a wall on the help defense if Giannis made it past Smart (and that wasn’t even a given, with Giannis opting to take some pull ups instead of heading to the rim). That wall didn’t let up all night, limiting the two-time MVP to a modest 24 points and 7 rebounds in 25 minutes.
The only other Milwaukee starter over 10 points was Khris Middleton, who posted 13 points and had to leave the game midway through the third after an elbow from Jaylen Brown in transition. The “highlight” of Middleton’s night was when he committed a take foul and then earned a technical foul, giving Boston two free points and the ball back. Bobby Portis chipped in 12 points.
For Boston, the Jays got some help from Al Horford (14 points), Marcus Smart (10 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds), Malcolm Brogdon (14 points, 5 assists and 4 steals), and Robert Williams (7 points and 4 blocks).
The funniest moment of the game came when Thanasis Antetokounmpo head-butted Blake Griffin only for the latter to laugh in response. Thanasis was ejected due to the flagrant-2 foul.
The Celtics now sit 2.0 games behind the Bucks for first seed and the best record in the league, but they also possess the tiebreaker. Boston will need to win two more games than Milwaukee, which isn’t totally out of the question. The consolation prize of failing to do so is a second-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers, which would be . . . to be nice . . . still desirable. The fact of the matter is that whether the Celtics have home court or not, they can win in any arena in the playoffs.
Boston takes on the Utah Jazz in a rematch tomorrow night on the second night of a back-to-back in Boston.