The Boston Celtics have made a habit of grinding out thrilling wins this season, so it was only fitting that their first game of the playoffs was an insane 113-107 overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Celtics blew a late 10-point lead in regulation, only to seemingly have the game won on a Terry Rozier 3-pointer that shook Eric Bledsoe out of his shoes:
However, Khris Middleton answered Rozier’s clutch shot with onions of his own, drilling a prayer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime:
Milwaukee scored six points in the first two minutes of the extra period and had a chance to go up three with 2:31 left, but Bledsoe missed an open jumper and they didn’t make another field goal the rest of the way. Bledsoe capped off a horrendous game by fouling out, and Giannis Antetokounmpo followed suit on a somewhat controversial call with 13 seconds left. Antetokounmpo scored a game-high 35 points to go along with 13 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Middleton added 31 points.
The Celtics had their offensive struggles without Kyrie Irving. They shot 41.5 percent and turned the ball over 15 times, with a lengthy stretch in the second quarter proving especially ugly to watch. The crunch-time offense also wasn’t the prettiest, but Boston hit enough tough shots and caught some breaks to pull out the win. Five Celtics scored at least 19 points, led by Al Horford’s 24. Marcus Morris had 21 points off the bench and hit numerous key shots.
Let’s look at some takeaways from this wild one in Boston.
Horford plays a man’s game
Horford has received criticism throughout his career for being too soft in the postseason. Big Al made sure that wouldn’t be the case in Game 1.
Not only did Horford pour in 24 points, but he recorded 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals in a monster all-around effort. He took a career-high 14 free throws and made 13 of them.
Horford often found himself with Antetokounmpo guarding him, and the Celtics big man didn’t hesitate to go straight at The Greek Freak. Horford drew several fouls with aggressive moves in the post, and that helped lead to Giannis fouling out.
Horford also did an admirable job defending Antetokounmpo. Sure, Giannis put up a monster stat line, but Horford offered up quality efforts on multiple occasions challenging the Bucks forward at the rim. And in general, Horford’s defense was typically excellent.
The Celtics’ kids aren’t afraid of the big stage
Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum all had a huge hand in the victory. Rozier got off to a slow start with only six points in the first half, but he finished with 23 and went 4 of 6 on 3-pointers after halftime. The dance Rozier did on Bledsoe was a dirty one, and he hit another huge triple in overtime after a Giannis dunk put the Bucks up two. Scary Terry has no fear.
Brown was aggressive right out of the gate, and he finished with 20 points on 9-of-19 shooting in 46 active minutes. He grabbed four rebounds, handed out four assists and was a team-best plus-18, meaning the Celtics were a minus-12 in his seven minutes off the court.
Similarly, Tatum was aggressive and mostly terrific in his playoff debut. He committed a few sloppy turnovers, but he finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals in 44 minutes. His reverse layup in the overtime period was a superstar-caliber move:
The Celtics are playing with house money with these young guys in this postseason. Even if they aren’t a title contender thanks to their injuries, these youngsters getting these huge playoff minutes will only help their development moving forward.
Giannis at the 5 needs to be used more
The Bucks’ offense was ugly for a good chunk of the game. They wound up shooting a solid 48.2 percent from the field, but they turned the ball over 20 times, leading to 27 Celtics points.
While John Henson did some nice things as a rim protector with six blocks, his presence too often clogged the lane on offense. Yet, Henson played 37 minutes and Tyler Zeller played four more, giving the Bucks 41 of 53 minutes with a natural center on the court.
Bucks coach Joe Prunty finally went to Giannis at the 5 in desperation mode late in the fourth quarter, and lo and behold Milwaukee made a charge to close the game. The lineup of Giannis/Bledsoe/Brogdon/Snell/Middleton gives the Bucks spacing on offense and versatility on the other end, which worked to their advantage late in regulation. Milwaukee scored 17 points with that group in three-plus minutes to close out the fourth quarter.
Giannis at the 5 may not be able to hold up for lengthy stretches if Horford continues to punish them down low, but it’s a look that needs to be utilized more often in Game 2 on Tuesday and beyond.
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