Celtics are calm, focused, and ready for Game 4

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Celtics are calm, focused, and ready for Game 4

MILWAUKEE – Inside the Boston Celtics locker room, there was an unmistakable calm among the players moments removed from a 116-92 thumping at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Players talked among themselves about what went wrong, about what they will do different in Game 4 on Sunday but more than anything else, they owned the loss.

There was no finger-pointing or second-guessing the head coaches’ player rotations or not-so-stealth putdowns of an opposing player who had been playing well – all things done by the Bucks thus far in this series.

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The post-game highlights were still in heavy rotation, but the Celtics had already moved on mentally to Sunday’s Game 4 matchup.

“They did what they had to do. It is what it is,” Marcus Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “Can’t dwell on it. We’ll see them on Sunday.”

As much as Boston has been a team that’s built upon a “Next Man Up” framework, an “on-to-the-next-game” mindset is also deeply woven into this team’s DNA.

That’s why win or lose, the Celtics don’t spend much time thinking or talking about what just happened.

And it is games like the one we saw on Friday where that approach is absolutely critical to them continuing along a successful path and not let rough nights such as Friday’s beatdown, derail them.

More than anything else, the Celtics have extracted elements beyond the X’s and O’s of Friday’s loss as their takeaways in helping improve their overall play for Sunday.

It’s easy to forget that Friday’s game was the first time this team had played a postseason road game together which any NBA veteran will tell you, is different than what you experience during the regular season.

Boston’s Al Horford believes having gone through that with this group for the first time on Friday, will benefit the Celtics in Game 4.

“We learned what the level of intensity is when you’re playing in the playoffs on the road,” Horford said. “At home, you feel good. You’re comfortable and confident. Even though we’ve been playing on the road all year, it’s different in the playoffs.

Horford added, “it’s a good learning experience for our group.”

And while there are sure to be adjustments made on Boston’s part, don’t expected them to stray too far away from who they have been all season.

“We’re super excited about Sunday,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “(Friday), we dropped the ball. We feel like we could have played a lot better. We can’t wait for Sunday, and we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing all year.”

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Giannis Antetokounmpo's qualms with officiating prove legitimate

Giannis Antetokounmpo's qualms with officiating prove legitimate

BOSTON – Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo was not happy with some of the calls made in Boston’s 113-107 Game 1 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

After the NBA released its two-minute report on the game, the Greek Freak may have had a point. 

In the fourth quarter with 1:33 to play, an offensive foul drawn by Boston’s Marcus Morris against Antetokounmpo was later determined to be an “incorrect call,” according to the report which indicated that Morris didn’t establish himself in “legal guarding position at the time of contact.”

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With 1:22 to play in the fourth, Antetokounmpo took more than 10 seconds to shoot his free throws, a violation that was not called and therefore determined to be an “incorrect non-call.” It was also determined that he took too long when he shot free throws with 53.6 and 14.8 seconds, respectively, to play in overtime. 

And with 15.8 seconds to play in the overtime period, Al Horford made contact with Antetokounmpo’s arm which affected his SQBR (Speed, Quickness, Balance, Rhythm) but no call was made. That, according to the two-minute report, was later ruled an “incorrect non-call.”

With only 13.0 seconds to play in overtime, Antetokounmpo was whistled for his sixth personal foul while trying to get a rebound from Boston’s Terry Rozier. The two-minute report indicates that Antetokounmpo made “marginal contact” with Rozier before getting his hands on the ball. That was ruled an “incorrect call,” with the right call, according to the two-minute report should have been a jump ball between Rozier and Antetokounmpo.

There wouldn’t have been a sixth foul to call if an earlier offensive foul against Antetokounmpo that was later ruled an “incorrect call,” had not been made.

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For Celtics, key to Game 2 is improving on what they did well Sunday

For Celtics, key to Game 2 is improving on what they did well Sunday

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks put on quite the show in their Game 1 battle, which ended with the Celtics edging the Bucks 113-107 in overtime. 

Game 2 will have a different look and feel, with both teams aware that adjustments have to be made. 

“There’s definitely some things we can do better, like cutting down turnovers,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton told NBC Sports Boston.

The Bucks turned the ball over 20 times in Game 1, resulting in 27 points for the Celtics. 

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Boston, which shot 41.5 percent, will look to connect at a higher clip against a Milwaukee team that, according to nba.com/stats, contested 77 of Boston’s 94 shot attempts (81.9 percent) in Game 1.

Milwaukee coach Joe Prunty said there were “a lot of little things” he took away from Sunday’s loss. 

“We had the turnovers; 20 is too many,” he said. “The start in the first quarter wasn’t ideal. The points off turnovers and the offensive rebounds, that was another thing we addressed and talked about.”

As for the Celtics, their focus isn’t necessarily on doing anything all that different but rather, continue to do what they did in Game 1 more consistently. Specifically, Boston’s game plan to hit the Bucks with a steady diet of Al Horford on the block was a major factor in Game 1. 

Horford had a double-double of 24 points and 12 rebounds, doing so on 5-for-8 shooting.  The five-time All-Star was 13-for-14 from the line, playoff career-highs in free throws taken and made.  Indeed, the ball was in Horford’s hands a lot, which can be seen in him having 98 touches according to nba.com/stats

The only player in Game 1 with more touches was Terry Rozier (124).

A good amount of Horford’s success offensively came while Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo was defending him. The Greek Freak is a phenomenal talent with tremendous length, athleticism and ball-handling. But when Horford backed him down into the post -- which he did frequently in Game 1 -- Antetokounmpo’s strengths were of no help. And you can bet Boston will look to go down that route again tonight.

“[Horford] played well, but in the grand scheme of things we can do a little better in keeping him off the free-throw line, make him shoot over our length a little more,” Prunty said. “He makes a lot of plays for them; it’s not just scoring. The biggest thing is he’s going to have the ball in his hands, and depending on who is guarding him . . .  you have to account for every position that he’s going to be in.”

Boston will also look to control the offensive glass like it did in Game 1, which resulted in a 22-4 advantage in second-chance points. 

“I thought we had a couple fortunate bounces we took advantage of on scramble plays,” said coach Brad Stevens. “But I thought we also were very aggressive on the glass.”

That added aggression is needed if the Bucks go with a small-ball lineup that shifts Antetokounmpo to center. 

“Rebounding is going to be a part of who we have to be,” Stevens said. 

Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 35 points, and the Bucks got another 31 points from Khris Middleton. Beyond that, Milwaukee didn’t get much production from the rest of the team. 

“We have to play within the flow of our offense, get in the right spots and guys have to be ready,” Antetokounmpo said. “The ball is going to find them eventually. Guys have to be ready to knock down shots and make the right play for the team.”

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One of the bigger disappointments for Milwaukee in Game 1 was Eric Bledsoe, a player the Celtics will once again have to contain if they are to take a 2-0 series lead. 

“He’s a really good player,” said Stevens. “His ability to get downhill . . . he’s a hard guy to keep in front. Anytime you play a team with this much talent, you have to constantly be prepared for each of those guys to be at their best.

Stevens added, “He’s a really good defender, very strong, very athletic . . . he does a good job.”

The same can be said for Antetokounmpo who averaged 33.5 points against the Celtics during the regular season and has seemingly picked up where he left off. 

“We know that we can do a lot better,” Antetokounmpo said. “Hopefully we can win the game.”

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