The Boston Celtics just put the Milwaukee Bucks and the league on notice.
On Thursday, the Celtics rolled into Fiserv Forum and demolished the top-seeded Bucks 140-99. Yes the Bucks were playing the second night of a back to back but this was more than beating up on a tired team. The Celtics came in and delivered a clear message.
You don’t want none of this smoke come playoff time.
The win helped erase some of the lingering stink leftover from Tuesday’s dumbfounding loss to the Washington Wizards. A game that all but eliminated the Celtics from competing for the number 1 seed in the East, regardless of how they performed agains the Bucks on Thursday. Boston sits 2 games back of Milwaukee with five games to play.
“We responded well from the jump,” Jayson Tatum said. “That’s all that I wanted and we wanted as a team, regardless of if we won or not, just to respond and play better than we did last game.”
The Celtics shot lights out all game going 51-of-91 from the field (56%) and 22-of-43 (51.2%) from three. The game was tight until halfway through the second quarter when Boston seized control, going on a 29-9 run to end the quarter and build an 18 point lead.
Boston pumped the lead to 30 after 3, after which both teams pulled their starters. The lead ballooned to as much as 49 in the fourth quarter.
Jayson Tatum was virtually unguardable scoring 40 points on 12-of-18 shooting and 8-of-10 from three. Jaylen Brown finished with 30 points, (17 in the first quarter) 5 assists, and 5 rebounds. With the effort, Tatum & Brown became the first pair of teammates to have twelve 30-point games in a season since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant (2002-03).
“I think we’ve been pretty consistent all year long, for the most part,” Brown said. “We probably should be closer to 60 wins at this point, but I think we’re a better team than we were last year. I think we won more games than we did last year. And overall, we haven’t dropped the ball. We might have lost some games, but we didn’t let a bad game turn into a bad two weeks or a bad month. We’ve been able to pretty much bounce back.”
Along with their ballistic offense, the Celtics game planned the Bucks perfectly on defense. They built “the wall,” as Reggie Miller noted throughout the broadcast, referring to the three or more bodies consistently clogging the paint against Giannis Antetokounmpo. He recorded 24 points before being subbed out with four minutes left in the third. After the game,
The win gave Boston the season series 2-games-to-1. The Celtics beat the Bucks 139-118 in Boston on Christmas Day and lost 131-125 in overtime on Feb. 14. The Celtics didn’t play Brown, Tatum, Marcus Smart or Al Horford in that overtime loss.
Antetokounmpo was asked if he’s worried how the Bucks will fare if they meet up with the Celtics in the postseason.
“We know what the deal is. It’s not hard to understand. If you’re not focused, if you don’t play hard, they’re gonna kick our ass,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said of playing the Celtics. “It’s as simple as that. They did it tonight. Won by 40. If you’re not locked in, if you don’t play hard, and if you don’t go out there and make it tough for them, they’re going to kick our ass. It’s as simple as that.
Outside of Giannis, the Bucks couldn’t buy a bucket. At the half, the team was 3-of-23 from three, and on the night they ended at just 37.6% from the field (an inflated rate due to garbage time scoring). Khris Middleton finished with 13 points, and Jrue Holiday, one day after posting a career high 51, had 6 points on 2-of-8 shooting.
The Celtics next faee the Jazz Friday night at the TD Garden.