The Boston Celtics’ matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night was supposed to be a battle for the one seed. If all had gone according to plan, the Celtics would have had the chance to cut Milwaukee’s lead to just one game.
However, a brutal loss to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night dashed Boston’s hopes of inching closer to the top of the conference. So instead of their matchup against Milwaukee being about seeding, it was about getting back on track.
“We responded well from the jump,” Jayson Tatum said after the game. “That’s all that I wanted, and we wanted as a team. Regardless if we won or not, just respond and play better than we did last game.”
After a 19-point beatdown at the hands of the 34-42 Wizards, the Celtics stormed into Fiserv Forum and walked all over the now 55-22 Bucks, earning a 140-99 win. They jumped out to a double-digit lead by the end of the first quarter and never looked back.
The last time Boston lost two games in a row was at the beginning of March when they blew three-consecutive double-digit leads. Heading into Thursday night, with the Bucks staring them in the face, they hoped to avoid that same feat. But rather than panic and make a million adjustments in lieu of defeat, they kept their heads.
“Trusting in the game plan and what coach wanted us to do,” Al Horford said when asked about the Celtics’ mindset heading into the game. “More than anything, just really trying to play the style of play that he wants us to. Uptempo. Playing with more pace. And I felt like we all just kind of, from the jump, were on that.”
Head coach Joe Mazzulla employed the strategies of constant ball movement, three-point shot-taking, and a connected defense all year long. And against the Bucks, Boston mastered all three of those ideologies.
They dished out 28 assists, shot 22-of-43 from three-point land (51.2%), and held the Bucks to just 37.6% shooting. That number includes Giannis Antetokounmpo making just 11 of his 27 shot attempts.
Boston waltzed into Milwaukee and faced the challenge head-on, looking fearless in a contest against the best team in the league.
“Just focusing on us,” Marcus Smart said of the Celtics’ goal after their loss to Washington. “We understood that coming in tonight was going to be a major challenge against a really, really good team. We knew how these guys play. We knew that they were going to come out and challenge us. So, we just wanted to be ready for that, and we just wanted to redeem ourselves.”
With just five games left in the regular season, there isn’t much time left for Boston to earn the one seed. They sit two games back of the Bucks, meaning Milwaukee would have to give them some serious help by losing at least two of their final five.
But rather than eyeing the standings, the Celtics’ attention should be turning toward the postseason. If they want to be at their best come playoff time, finishing out the regular season strong needs to be a top priority, and they are fully aware of that.
“We’ve been pretty consistent all year,” said Jaylen Brown. “You would think we haven’t been, but all we got to do is just continue to play basketball, take care of details, hone in, and try to reach our full potential. And it’s never too late for stuff like that, and tonight was a great win.”