Bucks 101, Celtics 89: Defending champs lock down Boston in taking Game 1 of Eastern Conference semifinals
The Milwaukee Bucks opened their second round Eastern Conference playoff series with the Boston Celtics with an emphatic, 101-89, victory at TD Garden, with the defending NBA champions putting on an extraordinary defensive effort in the home of the league’s top-ranked defensive unit.
Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s second career playoff triple-double (24 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists), the Bucks won their fourth straight game without injured all-star Khris Middleton by once again going “big” with Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis in the starting lineup.
But rather than rotate in a four-wing substitution pattern as he did against Chicago in the first round, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer kept at least one big man in the game throughout to offset Boston’s strong interior presence of Al Horford and Robert Williams III.
The bigger bodies and active perimeter defense led by Jrue Holiday and Wesley Matthews harassed Celtics stars Jayson Tatum (21 points on 6 of 18 shooting) and Jaylen Brown (12 on 4 of 13) all afternoon.
"The activity everywhere was good," Budenholzer said of the defensive effort. "Giannis, Brook, Bobby, those guys really having to do both — they've got to play the paint, they've got to play the three-point line.
"Our guards gotta do the same thing, our guards gotta limit penetration, limit opportunities. I think defensively the edge, the focus, was appropriate. We just gotta do it again coming back on Tuesday."
Portis had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds while Lopez added 10 rebounds, six points and three blocked shots.
Grayson Allen continued his strong play on both ends of the court for the Bucks with 11 points and three steals while Pat Connaughton (8 points) and Jevon Carter (7) joined him off the bench.
BOX SCORE: Bucks 101, Celtics 89
Game 2 is in Boston on Tuesday night at 6 p.m.
The victory was also the Bucks first on the road in a Game 1 since the 2016-17 playoffs in Toronto (excluding the "bubbled" playoffs in 2020).
The Bucks closed out the victory by stretching a 78-70 lead at the start of the quarter to as many as 17 in the opening 5 ½ minutes thanks to a 14-5 run that saw them shut out Tatum and Brown in that period. From there, the Celtics just couldn’t muster up enough firepower – nor make enough stops – to mount a legitimate comeback.
"Defensively, yes," Antetokounmpo said of setting a tone in winning Game 1.
"Defensively we were there tonight. It starts from everybody, from Jrue, from Wes, from me and Brook, Bobby, everybody that steps on the floor we've got to like have that individual pride and keep guys in front of us and then as a team we've got to finish with the rebound.
"At the end of the day, no matter what happened on offense — we're going to score the ball, we're going to turn the ball over, it doesn't matter who's going to shoot — defensively we've got to do it together. We've got to make it as tough as possible for them."
The Bucks took a 56-46 lead at the half despite a slow offensive start that saw them turn the ball over consistently and Holiday be called for two early fouls. But, the defending champions settled into the game on both ends of the court, and were led by Antetokounmpo’s 14-point, 7-assist effort as he played 20 minutes.
Antetokounmpo couldn’t get many shots to fall (5-for-13) but was a strong distributor, helping the Bucks make 10 of their 20 three-pointers and overcome a nine-turnover half. All eight Bucks who played, scored, and Allen came off the bench to add nine points.
Tatum also struggled from the field (3-for-10) and he and Horford led the Celtics with nine first half points. Boston also turned it over nine times but also had 11 points off seven offensive rebounds.
The Celtics played with momentum early in the game and used an 8-0 run in the first quarter to take a 19-12 lead, but the Bucks hit 3 threes in the final 2:46 to take a 27-24 lead after one quarter.
In the second quarter the Bucks used the deep ball to create some distance with a trio of triples from Allen and Matthews stretching a 36-34 lead to 45-37. Boston cut it to 45-43 but over the final three minutes of the half Milwaukee went on a 11-3 run.
Celtics guard Marcus Smart exited the game with 1:12 to go in the first half favoring his right shoulder, but he returned to warm up at halftime. The newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year had seven points on 2 of 6 shooting (including 1 of 4 from behind the three-point line) with a steal and one drawn charge in the opening half.