Sometimes, it’s just not your night.
Within the first two minutes in Milwaukee, the Bucks jumped out to a 11-2 lead after two Damian Lillard threes and a dunk and an and-1 from Giannis Antetokounmpo. It only got worse from there. It was 41-23 after the first quarter and 75-38 at halftime. Boston had made just one of their sixteen shots from behind the arc whereas Milwaukee made 11-of-22.
Not exactly “blouses” with 24 minutes still to play, but a good opportunity to exhale.
“Everything is about the players. As you continue to look at life from the perspective of the players, you look at their intentions and the character of your team and a year of experience for myself. I trust our character. I trust our team,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said after pulling the plug at halftime.
“You have to look at this and say, ‘is this a one off? Is this a trend? Is this something you have to be concerned about?’ You look at stuff like that and and the answer is ‘no, no.’ Things like this happen and you can use them as opportunities because it gives you perspective to be able to take a deep breath.”
To wit, the 20,000-foot view is impressive. A five-game sweep of Eastern Conference playoff teams was followed by a strong 3-1 road trip out west, a sweep of back-to-back games at home, then a six-game stretch (3-3) in four different NBA cities with nail-biting losses in Oklahoma City and Indianapolis, and finally, the wheels came off in Milwaukee.
“It wasn’t a lack of us playing hard. It’s just having a tough schedule and then it being a back-to-back and us going into overtime and then having a flight,” Jrue Holiday said of his spoiled homecoming. “Based on how the game went, sometimes coaches make decisions like that.”
It wasn’t just that the Celtics made a comeback on Wednesday night in an overtime win against the Timberwolves and then had to fly a thousand miles to Milwaukee in the same night. For what it’s worth to Minnesota’s credit, they had gotten delayed in Orlando the night before and arrived in Boston just hours before tip-off and were without starters Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley. Teams can get up for big games, especially on national TV.
But for the Celtics, this was Boston’s fifth game in seven nights that included the Utah Jazz who also had won 6 of their last 7, the Indiana Pacers who had won 6 of their last 7, and the Timberwolves, the Western Conference’s #1 seed.
The Bucks, on the other hand, had three days off before the marquee matchup. When asked about whether or not the league could do something about some of the scheduling inconsistencies of the 82-game gauntlet, Holiday jokingly quipped, “yeah, probably.”
But despite the odds and circumstances and the halftime deficit, Mazzulla asked the players if they wanted to make a go of it.
“We wanted to fight. We wanted to stay in and play, but sometimes as players, you have to listen to your coaches. I appreciate Joe for that because as a coach, he definitely does care about our well-being and he also knows that we’re going to fight until the end no matter what the score is.”
That might have been the gut check that ironically made Mazzulla’s decision to shut it down early a bit easier. With the Celtics character and competitive edge intact, it was the right time to give the team’s legs a rest after a fairly taxing stretch.