BOSTON — After winning 16 consecutive games, the Milwaukee Bucks surpassed the Celtics for number one in the Eastern Conference and remained atop the East ever since.
After beating the San Antonio Spurs 137-93 Sunday, Malcolm Brogdon admitted during his media availability that he’s had Milwaukee on his mind of late and that the Bucks’ ascension to first place last month initially shockwaves across the Celtics’ locker room. Amidst the league’s longest win streak of the season, Boston struggled.
The Celtics went 3-4 in their first seven outings after the break but have recently regained their focus of late — posting a 7-2 record since then, and are currently on a three-game winning streak.
“I think we’re getting more and more locked in,” Brogdon said after Sunday’s blowout win. “When Milwaukee took the number one seed from us after the break, sort of a shock to us — that we had dropped. Because we had created some separation between us and them, and that’s something we want — we want the number one seed. I think this team understands the importance of having home-court advantage in the playoffs. So, that’s something we’re going after.”
Boston is 1-1 against the Bucks this season. With seven games left, the Celtics (52-23), currently 1.5 games behind the Bucks (53-21) for first, still have time to regain their throne. And, with Thursday’s third and final matchup coming this week, beating Milwaukee once more and winning the tiebreaker between the top-tier teams could be enough to put the Celtics ahead of the Bucks for good and just in time for the playoffs.
Before the Bucks’ ascent to first, the Celtics had led the Eastern Conference since November. Now, with playoff implications on the line, Brogdon understands the importance of Boston’s playoff positioning, and its momentum as the Celtics hope to extend their win streak to four straight against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.
“Regardless, you have to play basketball. Regardless, you’re gonna get people’s best game, and regardless, you’re going to have to go through teams like Milwaukee,” Brogdon added. “So, we’re going to be prepared regardless.”
While Malcolm updated everyone on the Celtics’ short-term goals of beating out the Bucks for the top seed in the East, he also vouched for teammate Jaylen Brown’s candidacy for All-NBA. Brown, who scored a game-high 41 points, and 13 rebounds in the Celtics’ win against the Spurs, has a lot riding on making one of the association’s three All-NBA squads, as it could be the difference between Jaylen inking a supermax deal to stay in Boston and seeing Brown leaving the Celtics for greener pastures.
“He’s the best shooting guard in the league. He’ll be All-NBA; he’ll make one of the teams this year, and his game really speaks for itself,” Brogdon said. “When JT is out, he’s the number one option, and he’s showing that he can be that. He’s put in the work. He’s evolved since we came into the league. He’s evolved in taking giant steps forward every year. And he’s playing at an extremely high level.”
Jaylen’s 41-piece bumps his regular-season average to 27.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game this season. If Brown makes All-NBA this summer, the Celtics could offer him a five-year contract extension worth roughly $290 million — which is more than any other NBA team can offer Jaylen if he decides to enter free agency in 2024.