Celtics

Blakely's takeaways: Giannis drops 35, but Stevens isn't complaining

Blakely's takeaways: Giannis drops 35, but Stevens isn't complaining

BOSTON – Giannis Antetokounmpo had another big game against the Boston Celtics, lighting the Green Team up for 35 points.

Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton also torched the Celtics to the tune of 31 points.

But the Bucks got little else from the rest of their team, a key to Boston’s 113-107 overtime win to go up 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 66 points, or 61.7 percent of Milwaukee’s offense.

Despite their scoring, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was for the most part pleased with how his team defended Milwaukee’s 1-2 scoring punch.

“I thought we did an incredible job on Giannis,” Stevens said. “And so he had 35 points, but I thought our bigs kept him in front, made it as tough as possible. He had multiple possessions where he had to stop, pivot, pump-fake, and all that stuff. And still find a way to get the ball up on the glass.”

When it comes to Middleton, “he’s a really, really smooth shootin’ guy,” said Stevens, adding, “You know, he averages 20 (points) a game. People don’t talk about him enough, probably.”

As far as containing the rest of the Bucks who shot a combined 17-for-42 (40.4 percent) compared to the 23-for-41 (56.1 percent) by Antetokounmpo and Middleton, Stevens said there was no specific plan of attack to take away or limit the rest of the Milwaukee players.

“I mean, you still … you just prepare for each guy; Middleton, Giannis, and everybody else for what they do best,” Stevens said.

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 113-107 overtime win over Milwaukee in Game 1 of their best-of-seven first round series against the Bucks.

 

HUNGRY HORFORD

The Celtics could not have been more transparent about their plan to get the ball to Horford a lot when guarded by Antetokounmpo.  

Fifteen seconds into the game and Horford had his first basket, a five-foot hook shot over Antetokounmpo in the paint.

Horford scored a team-high 24 points on a ridiculously efficient 5-for-8 shooting.

Of those eight shots, only one was uncontested (a put-back dunk).

Out of the remaining seven field goal attempts, four came when Horford was being defended by Antetokounmpo.

“We wanted to make him play in the post, and make Giannis defend down there,” Stevens acknowledged.

 

Horford Livin’ Large at the Free Throw Line

That steady dose of feeding Horford in the post led to the five-time all-star taking a playoff career-high 14 free throw attempts with 13 makes, which nearly doubled his previous playoff career high for free throws made (7) and attempted (8). 

“I wasn’t really trying to (draw fouls). I was trying to score,” Horford said. “But they were fouling me, reaching, whatever. I was trying to be aggressive, score the ball.”

 

Tatum joins exclusive club

Jayson Tatum has been etching his name in the Celtics record book for rookies most of this season. But his latest entry may be the most impressive of them all. He had a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds, become just the third Celtic all-time to tally a double-double in his first playoff game. The two other two? Hall of Famers Tommy Heinsohn and Bill Russell.

Second-quarter struggles continue

Boston had yet another woeful second quarter, missing 16 of their 20 shots from the field in the second. And yet the deficit at halftime was just three points (47-44). “They turned it up on us in the second quarter and we were playing well up to that point but not well enough,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.

 

Celtics mental toughness challenged

After seemingly having Game 1 won, only to find themselves heading to overtime following Khris Middleton’s 3-pointer that forced overtime, the Celtics were cool as can be in the unexpected extra period. 

“I thought it was over,” said Boston’s Al Horford, referring to the 3-pointer made by Terry Rozier that put the Celtics ahead with 0.5 seconds to play. “Everybody always says play to the last second and everything, but half a second I figured we were good. As soon as he shot it I was like, ‘oh that’s good,’ I just had a feeling. He hit it and we had to refocus and our guys we did that and just kept on grinding it out.”

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Smart out of Celtics' Game 6 starting lineup, Ojeleye in

Smart out of Celtics' Game 6 starting lineup, Ojeleye in

MILWAUKEE— Brad Stevens is not averse to shaking up the Boston Celtics starting lineup, regardless of where a playoff series may stand.

And as eager as it may be for some to see Marcus Smart roaming the floor with the first unit in tonight’s close-out game against Milwaukee, both Smart and Stevens shot the idea down quickly.

“We haven’t talked about (me starting),” said Smart, who returned to the lineup for Game 5 following a right thumb injury that sidelined him for almost six weeks. “We actually like our starting lineup.”

Boston inserted rookie Semi Ojeleye into the starting lineup for Boston’s 92-87 Game 5 win, in place of Aron Baynes.

“Semi Ojeleye has been doing a great job on Giannis (Antetokounmpo). He matches up really well,” Smart said. “When you got somebody his size, his determination, that’s good for us. We like our matchups, the way we are to starting off the game and me coming off, bringing that energy off the bench.”

Stevens was more succinct when asked if he was considering inserting Smart into the starting lineup.

“No,” Stevens said.

While there is no mistaking the huge impact that Smart’s return for Game 5 had after missing almost six weeks with a right thumb injury, Stevens usually makes changes when there’s an area in which the Celtics need to address immediately.

In the first round of the playoffs last season against Chicago, Boston needed a jolt offensively with the first unit. 

In came Gerald Green who helped Boston win four straight over the Bulls after falling behind 2-0 in the series. 

Boston, up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, are in a much different place right now.

They come into tonight’s Game 6 matchup coming off their best defensive performance of this series.

And while Smart played a major role in that happening, Boston’s Game 5 win was a victory fueled by an across-the-board defensive effort.

Smart’s impact will be felt whether he’s starting or not.

Plus, inserting him at this point for Ojeleye or Terry Rozier, is a risk that based on where this series is and how Boston is playing, isn’t worth taking.

Rozier hasn’t been nearly as good on the road in this series as he has been at the TD Garden.

But having him in the starting lineup keeps the Bucks more honest defensively, well aware that Rozier is a better shooter and scorer than Smart.

Plus, benching Rozier at this point in the series would be a major blow to his growing confidence which is part of why he has had more strong games in his role as a starter for Kyrie Irving (left knee recovery), than weak ones.

One of the keys for Boston will be to get off to a better start, something that Smart can impact either as a starter or getting the call early off the bench.

In Boston’s Game 3 loss, Milwaukee began the game with a 16-6 run. And in Game 4, the Bucks closed out the first quarter with a 19-5 run before holding on for a two-point win.

Ultimately, Game 6 will be determined by which team does the better job down the stretch.

And for the Celtics, that usually involves Smart being on the floor.

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Ojeleye gets chance to limit Giannis again in Game 6

Ojeleye gets chance to limit Giannis again in Game 6

MILWAUKEE – No matter how detailed you may want to get in dissecting how to beat the Milwaukee Bucks, it always comes back to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

A 7-foot playmaker who covers ground like a world class long jumper with pogo stick-like leaping ability, Antetokounmpo is a living, breathing mismatch the moment he steps on to the floor.

But he is human, something the Boston Celtics reminded us of in their 92-87 Game 5 win in which Antetokounmpo came one assist shy of a triple-double but only took 10 shots from the field.

“I had open shots but they weren’t my shots,” Antetokounmpo said after the Game 5 loss. “My teammates did a great job finding me … come Game 6 I gotta be more aggressive, make more plays.”

Boston’s Semi Ojeleye was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 5 and will likely stay there for tonight’s close-out game.

His role is to give Antetokounmpo a different look defensively in addition to a more versatile defender who matches up better on pick-and-roll switches than Aron Baynes has in this series.

In Game 5, mission accomplished.

Ojeleye discussed the challenges one faces when tasked with defending Antetokounmpo.

“His aggressive mindset,” Ojeleye said. “Every play, every possession, transition, he’s always looking to attack. You have to be aware of that at all times and just be ready. If he sees you relaxed, he’s going to try and take advantage of that.”

And while Ojeleye will be the first to admit that defending Antetokounmpo is a team effort and not the task of any one individual, it’s clear that he’s as good a Celtic as there is when it comes to defending Antetokounmpo. 

 “Giannis is a really hard guy to guard,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Semi has great lateral athleticism and obviously as strong as anybody in the league when he gets hit on a drive, and Giannis brings as much force on the drive as anybody in the league. He’s a hard guy to guard and he’s trying to make it as difficult as possible.”

According to NBA.com, Ojeleye has defended Antetokounmpo for 73 possessions, 40 of which came in Game 5.

Antetokounmpo has scored 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting against Ojeleye.

And in Game 5, Antetokounmpo scored seven points on 3-for-5 shooting when defended by Ojeleye.

Upon first glance, those numbers aren’t all that impressive.

But a slightly deeper dive reveals that Ojeleye defended Antetokounmpo on 40 possessions.

That means Antetokounmpo took a shot with Ojeleye defending, once every eight possessions the two were on the floor at the same time.

As Ojeleye mentioned, defending Antetokounmpo is not a one-man job. 

It is a team effort, but it’s clear thus far that Boston’s best shot at minimizing Antetokounmpo’s impact begins with Ojeleye as the team’s primary defender. 

“It’s big-time what Semi can do,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris. “We all know he can defend well. He’s finally getting a chance on one of the biggest levels and he’s coming through.”

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