WHAT HAPPENED IN BOSTON?
No, really—what just happened?
The Bucks beat the Celtics 110–107 on Wednesday, seizing a 3–2 lead in the series.
And, really, how did it happen?
“We defeated ourselves,” Boston guard Marcus Smart said.
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“We realize we blew a fantastic opportunity tonight,” said coach Ime Udoka.
“We threw it away,” said forward Jaylen Brown.
In a wild, unexpected NBA playoff—by how many points did the Grizzlies defeat the Warriors?—this game may be the best. With ten minutes remaining, Boston led by 14, and the game was finished. The Celtics weren’t playing very well. Not at all. Jayson Tatum tallied 34 points, but he had to take 29 shots to get them. Brown had 26 points. Al Horford, Game 4’s hero, added eight points. With Robert Williams out, Daniel Theis was the only Celtics replacement to score in double figures.
Milwaukee was not capable of mounting a comeback. At the very least, they shouldn’t have been. We lacked the necessary weaponry. At least, it didn’t look that way. How many times have we heard how good Boston’s defense was? There was no way the Bucks could respond. With Khris Middleton out, the last few games of this series have been all about (Giannis) Antetokounmpo. In Game 3, he scored 42 points. In a Game 4 defeat, he scored 34 points. The Bucks sought to move the ball early in Game 5. Jrue Holiday led the team with nine points. Grayson Allen had five points. Bobby Portis scored four points off the bench.
Giannis took control as the Celtics’ defense tightened. In the second quarter, he scored 15 points. The Bucks scored four more points. In the third, he added 13. Antetokounmpo was unstoppable on the move. He outmatched smaller defenders. He stepped around the larger ones. He grabbed 11 rebounds, went to the free-throw line 10 times, and made over 60% of his attempts.
But he had no assistance. Only one other Bucks player, Holiday, had reached double figures after three quarters. He had 16 points, but he had to take 16 shots to get them. Wesley Matthews made no contributions. Brook Lopez was insignificant. Boston had thrashed Milwaukee in the fourth quarter of the previous two games and possessed the NBA’s best defense to seal the deal.
But they didn’t. With eight minutes remaining, a Pat Connaughton three-pointer trimmed the advantage to single digits. Bobby Portis’ free throws made it six. With less than a minute remaining, Holiday made a three-pointer to tie the game. When Antetokounmpo stepped to the free-throw line with 14 seconds left, the Bucks trailed by two. He created the first. He missed the second, but Portis, who had only played 15 minutes in Game 4, grabbed the rebound and flipped back in.
“Thank you, Milwaukee,” Brown remarked. “They give it their all for 48 minutes.” We strayed from what we do best too late. We weren’t as focused in the last stretch, and that cost us.”
Championship DNA is a term used loosely in sports. Too broadly. The Bucks just demonstrated it. They had the option of folding in the fourth quarter. They were ridiculously outgunned. Because of Middleton’s absence, Antetokounmpo has been forced to rely on isolations, and Holiday has been forced to play second scorer, a position he isn’t quite comfortable in. A defeat in Boston, in an eardrum-splitting venue, would have been understandable.
But they did not give up. In the last eight minutes, the Bucks gave up nine points. Antetokounmpo, who has battled with his three-point shot throughout the series, hit a huge one. Mathews did as well. In the final eight minutes, Portis converted four free throws. Even when the offense struggles, the Bucks never lose trust in one another.
“We’re always disciplined,” Antetokounmpo stated. “We always give our all… most of the time. We do the right thing.” Sometimes things don’t go our way. I believe everyone has faith in one another that we will make the correct decision. We’re going to make one additional pass. That we will always be present, regardless of the outcome, I believe that irrespective of the product, this group can go home and feel good about themselves. When we watch movies, it’s never about ‘you need to put in more effort’ or ‘you need to defend this man better.’ The effort from us, from this squad, is almost always present.”
The series returns to Milwaukee on Friday, and Game 6 is expected to be just as tense. These are two exceptional defenses. The Bad Boy’s Pistons take on the mid-90s Knicks. Floyd Mayweather vs. Pernell Whitaker The Steel Curtain vs. the Midway Monsters Every possession between these two teams has turned into a brawl. Late in the fourth quarter, Giannis suffered a shot to the side of the eye that resulted in blood.
However, the Bucks have pushed the Celtics to their breaking point. Boston has shown incredible tenacity this season, adjusting to a new coach, overcoming a disastrous start, and battling injuries and COVID-related sickness. They’ll need to show more of it if they want to beat Milwaukee at home.
On Wednesday, the Bucks played like champs.
We’ll see whether the Celtics can do the same on Friday.