Return to Celtics basketball: 10 takeaways from the Boston Celtics-Milwaukee Bucks

1. “That was Celtics basketball”

This quote came from Jaylen Brown after the game after the Boston Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks to tie their second-round series at 1-1. Brown was there.

Boston’s defense was pretty solid in Game 1, but their offense was a bit of a mess. Turnovers, missed passes, good shots denied and lack of physicality were all issues. In Game 2, the 2022 Celtics showed up.

Ime Udoka made several game plan adjustments and the players executed them. It wasn’t perfect, especially on points in the second half, but Boston led by a whopping 26 points, never trailed, and was never really threatened after halftime.

Tough and physical on both sides, playing together and digging deep into wounds. Celtics basketball indeed.

2. Jaylen Brown showed up at TD Garden and was working the grounds three hours before tipping. He had been locked in since the jump and it showed. Brown scored 25 points in the first half, and he did it in different ways.

It’s a shot the Celtics can get with regularity against the Bucks’ base defense. In the first game, they repeatedly denied it, as they only took three shots from mid-range. Here, Brown accepts it and gets the role of the shooter:

Brown’s quick start also translated defensively. It turns off Jrue Holiday here, then finishes by blocking Holiday’s fadeaway:

Brown breaking Grayson Allen’s ankles sent the crowd into hysterics:

When you throw it, the basket looks as big as the ocean no matter where you shoot it from or how defended you are:

3. While Jaylen Brown did the heavy lifting early on, Jayson Tatum shook things up in the second half. On three straight possessions late in the third quarter, Tatum seemed to remember he was bigger and better than Wesley Matthews.

First of all, Tatum can get that snap whenever he wants. He just needs to be ready to get up and shoot the smaller defenders:

On the next trip, Tatum was called up for a somewhat questionable offensive foul. But instead of going into a funk, he got back to work on the third possession to drive for an et-1 chance:

4. In Game 1, Ime Udoka was fine with the Celtics taking 50 three-pointers. What he didn’t like was the way these blueprints were generated. Udoka pointed out that Boston is better when they attack the paint and find shooters. Drive-and-kicks and multiple attacks were the theme of the game for the Celtics offense.

It is an exceptional offence. Jaylen Brown drives, which turns the Bucks around. Derrick White has the secondary offense, while Milwaukee is scrambled. In the end, Brown ends up shooting a three against a late fence from Brook Lopez, who doesn’t want to participate in the arc defense:

We’ll talk about that later, but Boston did a good job in the first half pushing the ball. This allowed them to avoid going against a set defense. It’s a good push from Jayson Tatum to get in the defense’s teeth before meeting Grant Williams:

This game starts with Tatum accepting two on the ball and he passes it to White. White goes straight into a dribble-drive before kicking Williams. From there, because Lopez first picked up Tatum and then fell to the white disc, it’s an easy swing to Al Horford for the triple:

On this one, Boston used most of the shot clock. But note that Brown hits the paint before kicking White. The Bucks defense is scrambled, as Giannis Antetokounmpo had to step in to help while Brown drove. With everyone in a bad mood, White swings at Tatum and Tatum takes a dribble before firing the laser at Horford for the layup:

5. The above is what Ime Udoka was talking about generating different looks. Yes, Boston had plenty of open, wide-open shots in Game 1, but they came early in the clock as they took the first available shot.

It’s threading the needle to find the balance between a good shot and a big shot, without going overboard. The Celtics hit him right in the eye repeatedly in Game 2.

The overall firing profile was also better:

Corner three – 9 of 17

Above Three Breaks – 11 of 26

Mid-range shots – 6 of 15 (not a big percentage, but the threat was there)

On the edge / in the paint – 12 of 22

It’s a better balance, even if three-heavy. But it’s how the looks were created, against the scrambled defense after moving and driving, that really matters.

6. On the other side, the Celtics controlled Giannis Antetokounmpo again. But this time it came with a major Game 1 tweak. Boston rarely doubled it. And if they did, it was only very late in the clock. Al Horford and Grant Williams again combined as Antetokounmpo’s main defenders and they again held up very well. Here are their combined numbers in games 1 and 2:

Horford defends Antetokounmpo – 54 possessions, 19 points on 6-of-22 shooting, five turnovers

Williams defends Antetokounmpo – 52 possessions, 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting, two turnovers

Due to Horford and Williams’ ability to contain Antetokounmpo unaided, Ime Udoka abandoned the double-team strategy. Here’s Williams stoning Antetokounmpo in the post before offering the tape:

The Bucks attempted to counter Boston by defending Antetokounmpo 1-1 using him as a screen. It worked for a while, until the Celtics adjusted and pre-changed some actions or fought through screens and didn’t change. It also helps when Rob Williams hides to clean things up in the back:

7. Another key to the Celtics’ success against Giannis Antetokounmpo was more a team-wide accomplishment than anything an individual did. Boston was gutted on transition defense in Game 1. The Bucks had 44 transition points, including 28 fastbreak points. In Game 2, Milwaukee had just 15 transition points, including only six fastbreak points.

Part of that was the Celtics’ increased focus on returning on defense. But much of it was due to Boston’s limited turnovers. They had 18 giveaways in Game 1, including several live ball turnovers that directly drove Bucks baskets. In Game 2, turnovers were limited to 13 and only four were live balls.

We talk a lot about turning defense into attack, but sometimes attack can turn into defense. Milwaukee had to play against a Boston defense way more often in Game 2 and that made a huge difference.

8. As for the Celtics, they did a much better job pushing their pace and finding an easy offense. This was especially true in the first half.

Yes, it’s a late look, but Jaylen Brown isn’t slowing it down or dribbling in a contested three. He attacks, forces the assist and finds Jayson Tatum for the layup:

Look where Al Horford starts this clip. He is on the baseline after challenging a shot to the rim. Derrick White gets the rebound and pushes. Notice how White holds him back very lightly, as Horford sprints across the floor before White does it for the layup:

This is a real fastbreak that turns defense into attack. Tatum gets robbed and he goes the other way before leaving it to Rob Williams for the loud finish:

Stealing an easy offense is huge against a defense as good as Milwaukee’s.

9. The Bucks made a few mini runs in the fourth quarter, but Boston kept making plays to keep that at bay. Jayson Tatum starts this game by stepping into the paint before kicking Jaylen Brown. Then Tatum gets up and heads to the corner for one of the most open three-pointers he’s probably ever had:

On the next trip, Jaylen Brown collects the offensive rebound before completing the spinning layup:

A few games later, Tatum drives again and moves out for three more:

Anything else to notice about these three pieces? Giannis Antetokounmpo is exhausted. He doesn’t challenge Tatum on the top three. He does not challenge Brown on the return. And then he doesn’t even bother to stay with Tatum as he moves onto the latter.

10. The playoffs consist of adjustments. Boston made a heap in Game 2. Now expect the Bucks to have counters as the series moves to Milwaukee.

In a sense, the Bucks did their job getting along in Boston. They now have the home advantage. But on the other hand, the Celtics had so much to fix from Game 1 and they cleaned up most of it. Ime Udoka said the team still missed a few passes for the big drivers and also let some good looks inside. Presumably, this will be a goal before Game 3.

Now it’s about preparing for what the Bucks could do differently. Milwaukee had some success with Giannis Antetokounmpo working as a screener in the second half of Game 2. Boston will have to have a plan for that.

With three days off, both sides have plenty of time to think about the changes. But they also have a lot of time to think too much. Not getting too cute is just as important as finding a new wrinkle. And, of course, three days off is huge for Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart to get treatment for their injuries.

Game 3 takes place Saturday, May 7 at 3:30 p.m. on ABC.

About Marc Womack

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