BOSTON - If Brad Stevens' main objective is to make sure his team is playing well headed into the postseason, Friday night was another step in the right directions.
While, yes, the Celtics did allow 58 points on 56.4-shooting from the field in the first half, it was the way in which they closed out the second quarter and carried the momentum into the second half that propelled them to a 124-109 win over the Bucks.
The Celtics outscored the Bucks 11-3 in the final three minutes of the second quarter and grew their seven-point halftime lead to a whopping 21 points, outscoring the Bucks 36-22 and holding them to just 33-percent shooting from the field.
The two-headed monster of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker kept the Bucks in things in the first half, but foul trouble limited Antetokounmpo in the second half, as he picked up his fifth foul in the third quarter.
He had 20 of his game-high 27 points at halftime. Parker, meanwhile, finished with 18 points.
And for the first time in 18 games, it was not Isaiah Thomas who led the Celtics in scoring - though he still was a major factor in the win. Thomas finished with 20 points (not needing to play the fourth quarter due to the Celtics' big lead) but it was Celtics big man Tyler Zeller who led the team with a whopping 26 points.
Avery Bradley scored 16 points and Jared Sullinger had 15. Kelly Olynyk added 16 off the bench on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting.
Player of the Game
It's not often we can give it to a player other than Isaiah Thomas, so we'll jump at the opportunity to give it to Tyler Zeller tonight. Zeller hasn't been called upon as much as he'd have liked this season, but there's something to be said about a player ready for the call at any moment. It speaks to the professional Zeller is, and you can be sure Brad Stevens appreciates that. Zeller's 26 points ties a career-high he set last season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had just hit a three-pointer to put the Bucks up one point, 55-54, before Brad Stevens took a timeout with 2:41 remaining in the second quarter. The Celtics then came out firing, as Jared Sullinger hit a three-pointer from the corner to put the C's back up two points. Then four. Then eventually eight. They never looked back.
Stat to Track
The Celtics had a whopping 70 points in the paint against the Bucks, choosing to take it to them at the basket instead of hoist three-pointers. Boston only took 14 three pointers on the night, which is low for them.
Yup, he can play
You hear so much about Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Greek Freak did not disappoint Friday night. It was clear from the very start that the only person going to stop Antetokounmpo was himself. Nobody on the Celtics had any luck guarding him, especially when he had a full head of steam. Antetokounmpo had 17 points at the end of the first quarter, but picked up fouls and essentially took himself out of the game by doing so. Once he learns how to control his body a bit more, watch out.
The Celtics are on to Atlanta instantly as they get set for the second night of a back-to-back against the Hawks Saturday night. The Hawks didn't play Friday night so might have a little more energy than Boston, but the C's have been strong in back-to-backs this season so it should be a good one.