The Boston Celtics suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night in the team’s bubble opener.
Despite starting the game with a quick 15-2 deficit, one Tatum’s worst performances of his career, Kemba on a minutes restriction, a slow start from Hayward, leaving seven points at the free-throw line, and tough calls down the wire, the Boston Celtics managed to end the fight with just a seven-point loss, 119-112.
- Sure, Tatum had an off night (2-18 with five points), but he was still able to get the shots that he wanted. Whether it was his floaters in the paint, free-throw line jumpers, or his step-back three, he was getting to all of those. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t get them to fall. Just the fact that if he has an average game – say 20-25 points – the Celtics likely win by double digits.
- The aggressiveness from Jaylen Brown helped to get him going offensively. After a slow start and early foul trouble, the rising superstar managed to finish with 22 points on 40% shooting. Still not great efficiency, but he stepped up in some big moments when the squad needed him the most.
- Kemba, despite playing under a minutes restriction, had a phenomenal first game back and was the Celtics’ most consistent source of offensive production for the short time he was out there. He finished with 16 points on 55% shooting in just 18 minutes.
- Gordon Hayward was what Gordon Hayward is: solid. The underrated star finished with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists. He continues to prove his value for this team as one of the most underappreciated players in the league and by far the best fourth option as well.
- Similar to Hayward, Marcus Smart does what Marcus Smart does when Marcus Smart wants. The heart and soul ended the night as the Celtics’ leading scorer with 23 points on 64% shooting – incredible. That is just on the offensive end, too. He was huge on the defensive end of the floor – like always – and defended the league’s MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, exceptionally well. With big steals throughout, the impeccable ability to defend bigger players in the post, and his incredible motor, it’s hard to imagine where this team would be without number 36.
I can’t mention Smart’s game thought without the most controversial call of the game. I’ll let you decide, but it was the play that ended up turning the tide one last time.
- The Celtics finally had a night where Khris Middleton wasn’t making every shot, and much of that needs to be credited to the defensive system that Brad Stevens puts together. Middleton finished with 18 points on 30% shooting (6-20 and 2-9 from deep). Unfortunately, the Celtics couldn’t take advantage and pull out with the win, but knowing they can prevent Middleton from torching them is a positive takeaway. But… he did show up when it mattered the most.
The Boston Celtics have to be pleased with how the game played out. Obviously this game stings a bit. The C’s had ample opportunities to take control late in the fourth quarter (tied at 105 with three minutes and then tied at 107 with 2:20) but just weren’t able to hit the crucial shots when they needed them.
You’d like to believe that on a normal night for Tatum, he hits the clutch shots for Boston and leads them to the late win, but that just wasn’t able to be the outcome tonight. Nonetheless, the Celtics proved yet again that they can compete with the teams who everyone claims are the clear cut favorites (Clippers, Lakers, Bucks). But that’s okay, underdog Celtics teams are a mighty force in the Playoffs.
So as much as this game hurts, try and look at the positives. If somebody told me this morning that the Celtics would lose by just three on a night where Tatum shot 2-18, I would have laughed at them. This Boston squad is the real deal and that was proven tonight on the national stage.
The Celtics are back in action Sunday afternoon against Portland, a team that Tatum dropped 36 on before the league’s hiatus, at 3:30 pm ET on ABC. The C’s are now 3.5 games behind Toronto for the two seed and could fall to four back if the Raptors win their game Saturday night against the Lakers.
Ladies and gentlemen, basketball is back and this Boston Celtics team has something to prove. On to Portland.