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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .