1. Technology is playing games today, so no clips. We’re just going to riff here for a bit and see how things flow.
The Boston Celtics destroyed the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. It was as big of a spotlight as the two teams have had since their Christmas Day matchup. It was the only game being played at its timeslot on Thursday, and one of only two games on the night. Being the early game, that meant all NBA eyes were on Celtics-Bucks.
Much like they did on Christmas, Boston rolled over Milwaukee with little issue. After about midway through the first quarter, the Celtics had the game in hand. And there was no letup either.
It might not make the difference in catching Milwaukee for the one seed in the Eastern Conference, but it was a win Boston needed. If nothing else, they needed to remind everyone, themselves included, that the East runs through Boston, homecourt advantage or not.
Jaylen Brown carried the Celtics early. After setting the pace and a good lead, Brown handed the baton to Jayson Tatum. Tatum basically finished off Milwaukee early enough to allow Boston to sail through the final part of the game.
But it wasn’t just the stars, awesome as they both were. And they were plenty awesome.
Al Horford bounced back from a tough night with a big night He’s a key against Milwaukee, because if he’s hitting shots, the Bucks playing drop coverage is basically shot. That brings Brook Lopez up to the level of the ball, and that’s when you can attack the rim.
Malcolm Brogdon played well against his former team, as he did a little bit of everything. It was one of Brogdon’s better defensive games in a while. It’s not just the four steals, even if those were nice, but Brogdon was in the right spots all game long. He held his own against both guards and bigs, and that’s a good sign for upcoming playoff matchups.
Rob Williams raises both the Celtics floor and their ceiling. That’s a rare combination, but that’s how special he is. Whether it was apparating to the paint to shock Jrue Holiday on a layup attempt, or blocking a Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk attempt, Williams made stuff happen on defense. On offense, he was everywhere, and it sure felt like had more than four offensive rebounds.
Marcus Smart ran the offense to perfection. He shot when he was open, but mostly focused on pushing pace and getting his guys easy looks. On three different occasions, Smart found Jaylen Brown through the backdoor on what has become a staple of Boston’s offense.
Joe Mazzulla had a good game too. With Boston starting small, Mazzulla put Smart on Antetokounmpo. That had the Bucks offense out of rhythm. They went away from some of their usual stuff to try and attack that mismatch. As we all know by now, it’s not really a mismatch to be attacked.
The change also allowed Horford to come as the extra size at the rim when Antetokounmpo drove. That’s key, especially with Boston smaller. And Boston constantly had perimeter players digging down with double-teams whenever Antetokounmpo went to his spin series near the paint.
Mazzulla also did a good job of mostly playing Rob Williams when Lopez was off the floor. That forced Lopez to guard a shooter at all times. That gave Boston a lot of good looks or pulled Lopez out of the paint for drives. In addition, when Williams was in, he was able to have a huge impact around the rim on both ends of the floor, because Lopez wasn’t out there.
All around, this was a good night for the Celtics. And it was a needed one.
Following the game, Giannis Antetokounmpo summed it up best:
“It’s not hard to understand: If you’re not focused, if you don’t play hard, they’re going to kick our ass. Simple as that,” Antetokounmpo said. “There’s no level of concern. It’s a fact.”
That quote could have come from any number of Celtics, from coaches to players. As a matter of fact, some version of that quote has been said by any number of Celtics, from coaches to players.
When the Celtics are focused, engaged and play with effort, they are the best team in the NBA.
Actually, let’s go a step further: when the Celtics are focused, engaged and play with effort, they are the best team in the NBA, and it’s not particularly close.
The challenge has been with that focus, engagement and effort coming and going. Maybe it’s as simple as not respecting certain opponents, giving them hope and then being unable to figure it out. That’s how you get your tails kicked by an undermanned Wizards team. Keeping it clean, but the NBA really is a great example of “F*** around, find out”. Disrespect your opponent and the game, and you will be punished for it.
In the playoffs, Boston will probably only see teams they have to respect. That’s a good thing, because it means we’ll get the best Celtics. The ones who show up focused, engaged and play with great effort. Those Celtics will bring home Banner 18, no matter where they have to go to win those games. We’ve seen it before, and we were reminded of it on Thursday.
Boston gets right back at it on Friday night, as they traveled home to face the Utah Jazz on a back-to-back. Will that focus, engagement and effort carry over against a weakened opponent? Only time will tell. But it’s safe to say that it might not really matter. The Celtics are focused on bigger things. Until then, the rest is just prologue. The real story starts in about two weeks. And we’re all just about ready to turn that page.