FINAL: Milwaukee: 98 Boston: 97
The Celtics returned from the All-Star Break looking to gain some ground back at the top of the East. Long story short, they did not gain some ground and eventually lost in heartbreaking fashion in the final seconds. All in all, for how poorly they shot (38.2% from the field), I though they played a quality game on the defensive end and gave themselves a chance to win albeit the cold shooting night.
Kyrie Irving was the main victim of this cold spell as he went 9-27 from the field (22 points) and never really got into any sort of rhythm until late in the game (10 points and 4 assists in the 4th quarter). He had one of his worst shooting nights of the season and after all of the drama surrounding him has came to a head as of late, things could’ve gone better. He always comes to play down the stretch but they need more from him if they’re going to beat teams like the Bucks. On a night where they held the Bucks to 98 points and 42% shooting it was a winnable game for the Celtics and it’s tough when Kyrie is off like he was.
The main bright spot for Boston last night was Al Horford. The phenomenon that is “Playoff Al” is something usually reserved for April-June, but we got a taste in February. 21 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, and ZERO turnovers is not the stat line I expected from Al but here we are. I’ve discussed recently how Al has stepped up his rebounding game in the absence of Aron Baynes. He’s averaged 13 boards per game his last 3 games in which he was matched up with the likes of Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Andre Drummond. That my friends is impressive and Al continues his resurgence in the second half of the season after looking like a brittle old man the first couple of months.
Although Al did a great job last night on both ends, he (and the rest of the Celtics) had absolutely nothing for Giannis. He posted 30 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks on a smooth 11-19 night from the field. Every time I watch this freak (A greek one to be exact) I’m always awestruck. Just when you think he’s locked up or can’t get to a ball, he does something preposterous and you can do nothing but stare at your television in complete disarray. Want to know what I’m talking about? First off, I wasn’t aware Giannis was Shaq and could just move anyone out of his way like they’re a toddler.
Second, how does someone make up this much ground, this quickly, AND is able to time the block up perfectly. He did get Tatum with the body a little bit but for anyone who is livid about a no-call here, the Celtics are not getting that call, no chance in hell.
The demons that go by Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon also gave the Celtics the blues all the way from tip-off to final buzzer. Middleton had 15/13/4 and the eventual game winner as he sunk this dagger with 32 seconds left.
He’s a nightmare and I woke up in the middle of the night like D-Wade as he’s just a haunting presence in my brain in the wee hours of the night after shots like that.
Ditto for Malcolm Brogdon as he had 15/6/4 and it seems like he hits all of the momentum swinging shots. He’s dancing with a 50-40-90 season and he was no slouch last night either.
The Bucks have so many different types of players around Giannis and they can all shoot. The trio of Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova, and Nikola Mitotic is a wrecking crew from downtown and it kept the Celtics off balance. Dealing with Giannis is not a one man job and when the Celtics tried to double down most of the time somebody was wide open.
After all of that, and a bet between these two teams on who can hit the least shots, we got a pretty exciting (disappointing) finish. After the Middleton three the Celtics got a quick layup from Kyrie which led to the Bucks to having 27.5 seconds on the clock and a 1 point lead. What ensued next was up there for most Marcus Smart play ever as he tied up Giannis with 0.2 on the shot clock and ended up giving the Celtics a chance to win it with 3.5 left. I have a feeling I’m going to start campaigning for Smart as DPOY so be warned on that front. But for real, What. A. Damn. Play.
With 3.5 seconds left the Celtics took a timeout and cooked this up for us.
Postgame it came out that Morris was the first option but the Celtics lived with the ball ending up in Kyrie’s hands. The premise of the play had to be that as Mook cuts to the corner, Kyrie pops up as a decoy, Smart looks there, then has a wide open Morris in the corner. If the Bucks were to bite heavily when Morris gets the ball Kyrie would be at the top of the key wide open. The play was mucked up as Morris was hit on the way by as he cut. Morris did get mauled but again, you cannot blame the refs for this game and you cannot expect them to call that with 3.5 left. While I get the “it’s the rules it should be called” argument, the NBA (and most basketball) has always been like this and we know that. I also find it hard to blame the officials when the Celtics shot *checks notes* 30.8% in an important third quarter and struggled on offense all night long.
There’s has also been some outrage about Kyrie taking it himself and not swinging it over to Horford. Al was open, but with such little time on the clock, and Kyrie being set on going to the hoop, I don’t hate that he took it. If he had kicked it to Al and they lost the narrative would have been “Kyrie shouldn’t have deferred there, he’s the leader, he has to take that shot”. It’s nitpicking and if you get the ball in your superstar’s hands, and he gets a look at the basket, you did your job. The team echoed this in the postgame as Al said “Kyrie with the ball, that’s what we wanted”. With all of this drama, it’s understandable that Kyrie is going to get killed by the “you should’ve passed it” narrative today. But hey! At least they’ll be talking about basketball and not his fictional departure to the Knicks.
Next Game: Saturday, 8 PM ET @ Chicago
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