Stars, studs, & duds: Celtics punish Bucks in paint

Stars, studs, & duds: Celtics punish Bucks in paint

BOSTON - The Celtics beat the Bucks at their own game Friday night at the TD Garden.

Milwaukee came into the game leading the NBA in points in the paint per game, averaging 50.3 per game.

So what did the Celtics do? Score a season-high 70 points in the paint against them.

The Bucks still got 54 of their own, but it was a Celtics attack from not only the bigs but guards in transition that won them the battle at the basket.

Tyler Zeller had a team-high 26 points and went to the free throw line nine times. Fellow big man Kelly Olynyk had 16 points and went to the free throw line seven times. The Celtics as a team only took 14 three-pointers, 12 less than their average.

Boston scored 38 points in the paint against the Pelicans earlier this week, so I asked Brad Stevens after the game if attacking the basket Friday night was something they put in the gameplan, or if they were just adjusting to what the Bucks were doing on defense.

"They're really a help-oriented team so we thought we were going to have to do more spraying the ball more obviously," Stevens said. "We did that early on. I thought that Tyler kind of gave us a lift in that second half because he gave us a couple points running the floor.

"And so obviously those add up and then they got spread out as we continued to move the ball better against the blitz and make the right reads. But we weren't getting it usually on the first pass. We were usually getting it on the second and third penetration and pass."

Points in the paint were huge in this one, but let's take a look at the players who really had a major impact - for better or worse.

Tyler Zeller
We've given Tyler Zeller plenty of love tonight, so we'll keep this short. Zeller tied a career-high with 26 points against the Bucks and really came on strong in the second half as the Celtics put the game out of reach in the third quarter. He finished 9-for-15 from the field and 8-for-9 from the free throw line.

Isaiah Thomas
Even when Isaiah Thomas isn't the star, he's still a star. Thomas' streak of leading the Celtics in scoring ended Friday night, but he still scored 20 points on just nine field goals. That's what you call efficient, folks. Thomas also kept the Celtics in the game during the first half when it looked like Giannis Antetokounmpo was going to single-handedly destroy the Celtics.

Giannis Antetokounmpo
And speaking of Antetokounmpo, he was very bit the Greek Freak he's made out to be. Antetokounmpo had 17 points in the first quarter alone and it looked as if nobody on the Celtics really had an answer for him. If not for his foul trouble - he picked up his fifth in the third quarter - this game could have ended differently. He still finished with 27 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. It's really something to watch him in transition.

Marcus Smart
I know what you're thinking: Somebody who shot 0-for-2 for four points is a STUD tonight? Well folks, it's not just about scoring - and that's great news for Smart because he does struggle to score at times. But Smart doesn't get 27 minutes of playing time for nothing tonight. He's a force on defense and made some excellent passes, finishing with nine assists. He rifled an inbounds pass cross-court to Jared Sullinger at the end of the second quarter that may have swung the game. He also had a nice alley-oop pass to Kelly Olynyk. Smart was a plus-22, so there ya have it.

Kelly Olynyk
Give it up for "Hair Canada" (shoutout to NESN's Zack Cox for the nickname) tonight. Not only did Olynyk throw down a nasty alley-oop that I just mentioned, but he was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field including 1-or-1 from three-point range. Danny Ainge took Olynyk over Antetokounmpo in the NBA Draft. He might do things differently if he had another chance, but Olynyk can certainly help the Celtics if his shot is falling.

Evan Turner
Give Evan Turner credit for coming back from a nasty eye injury after just one game and leading the team in plus-minus with plus-26. Like Smart, he only scored four points, and also like Smart he dished out nine assists. Good to have him back. Bench mob was strong tonight.


The biggest dud has to go to Greg Monroe who was a completely nonreactor basically the entire night. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker brought it Friday night but Monroe played 28 minutes of relatively forgettable basketball. And it's not like Monroe hasn't had success against Boston in the past. He killed them in Milwaukee earlier this year. It's not the first inconsistent play out of a Georgetown Hoya that we've seen in the TD Garden over the last couple years . . .

WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

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WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pelicans in New Orleans. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 5:30  p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

As the NBA trade deadline drew near, Celtics Nation was hoping tonight’s matchup between Boston and New Orleans would be Anthony Davis returning to where his pro career began.

He’s still with the Pelicans, doing what Davis has done for most of his career – dominate play.

But there’s a new twist now … he’s also winning. 

That’s why the 6-foot-10 Davis is no longer seen as a player that might be on the move anytime soon. 

He’s not just one of the league’s best players, but a bonafide MVP candidate whose stock as an elite player is even greater since New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles tendon) for the season on Jan. 26. 

Since Cousins’ season-ending injury, New Orleans (39-30) has a 12-9 record with Davis averaging 31.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per game in that span. 

Davis is also averaging 7.8 free throws per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, although you wouldn’t know he was among the league leaders in that category based on the postgame rant by his coach Alvin Gentry following New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday night. 

“A.D. (Anthony Davis) never gets a call,” a visibly angry Gentry told reporters following the loss. “He never gets a call. We talk about them holding him. We talk about them grabbing him on rolls. We talk about them coming under him on post-ups. He never gets a call; not one. And you know why? Because he doesn’t (bleep) complain about it. He just keeps playing the game.”

Regardless of how often he gets to the line, Davis is still putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season in Cousins’ absence. 

But it’s not like Davis’ stat line this season overall – 28.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals – didn’t stand out for all the right reasons, either.

However, Davis’ shine isn’t quite as bright now with the Pelicans losing four of their last five games which has dropped New Orleans (39-30) down to the eighth and final playoff spot and just 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (37-31).

So, the Celtics come into town facing not only one of the better teams in the West, but a club that is absolutely starving for a win.

While Boston (47-22) certainly wants to come into the Big Easy and get a victory, its impact on the Celtics’ playoff hopes is non-existent. 

Boston has the second-best record in the East and trail Toronto (52-17) by five games with 13 remaining. They face the Raptors two more times this season, but even if they win both of those games and thus the head-to-head series, it likely won’t come into play because of Toronto likely finishing with the best record in the East. 

And behind Boston in the standings is Cleveland (40-29), another injury-riddled team that’s seven games behind the Celtics in the standing and has shown no signs of threatening to gain ground on Boston. 

So regardless of how the Celtics fare, it’s likely they will remain sandwiched between Toronto and Cleveland in terms of playoff seedings are concerned. 

And that might factor into who plays – and who doesn’t – for Boston in these final few games of the regular season. 

Boston’s Daniel Theis suffered a season-ending torn meniscus injury in his left knee, and Marcus Smart’s right thumb injury will keep him out for the rest of the regular season with the earliest he might be back being the latter stages of the first round of the playoffs, or sometime during the second round if the Celtics advance that far. 

Boston must also make sure Kyrie Irving and his sore left knee, are good to go for the playoffs. In addition, the Celtics must work Jaylen Brown back into the fold after he suffered a concussion that has kept him out of Boston’s last three games. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made a point of not allowing himself or his players to use their injury situation as an excuse for not playing good basketball. 

But he knows good basketball for his injury-riddled roster, involves players elevating their play.

“We’re going to be in the process of really looking at ourselves and redistributing responsibility on our team without guys going outside of what they do best,” Stevens said, adding, “We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best basketball.”