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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Bulpett: Celtics and Al Horford have discussed contract extension

Bulpett: Celtics and Al Horford have discussed contract extension

Now that Anthony Davis is off the market, the next item on the Celtics' offseason to-do list is Al Horford's player option. By this upcoming Tuesday (6/18), Horford must decide whether to pick up his $30.1 million option to return to the Celtics for at least one more season or opt-out and hit free agency. 

The deadline can be moved back to June 29 at the latest if the both Horford and the Celtics agree, and Adam Himmelsbach reported Saturday that Horford remains undecided on his player option, so it's possible we have to wait to get a resolution to the 33-year-old's contract situation. 

However, according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, Horford and the Celtics have discussed a new contract if the big man opts out at a lower salary figure but with more years on the deal. 

Horford has until Tuesday to opt in to $30,123,015 for next season, but the sides have been discussing a plan where he comes in at a lower number next season and gets two more years tacked on in a new deal. It’s not known whether the way things have played out over the last couple of weeks will have an effect on Horford’s outlook.

What Bulpett might mean in the last sentence there is the 'eroding' belief that Kyrie Irving will re-sign with the Celtics, and Boston's choice to hold on to their young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Anthony Davis trade discussions. 

There is little question to whether Horford can still contribute to this Celtics team, with or without Irving, but at 33 he doesn't really fit the same contention window at Tatum and Brown would. If Horford wants to contend during the latter part of his career, he could opt in and request a trade or opt out and sign elsewhere. Danny Ainge considers Horford a priority for the Celtics this offseason, so the age factor might not matter for either party here. 

Davis and Irving were the biggest variables for the Celtics this summer, but Horford's situation will also have a major impact on the direction of this team. As is the theme with the 2019 NBA offseason, nothing is certain. 

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Reports: Celtics were open to including Jayson Tatum in Anthony Davis trade

Reports: Celtics were open to including Jayson Tatum in Anthony Davis trade

Not long after the news broke on the Pelicans agreeing to trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, three first round picks and two pick swaps, Marc Stein reported that the Celtics refused to include Jayson Tatum in a potential trade package. This opened the door for LA to get LeBron James a legitimate running mate and form its strongest roster since the days of Kobe Bryant. 

It was understandable why the Celtics would refuse to include Tatum in a deal. For one thing, the team's belief in Kyrie Irving re-signing has reportedly 'eroded,' and Rich Paul had stated publicly that Davis would leave Boston next summer.  

But according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, the Celtics weren't completely against including Tatum in a trade.

But in the current situation, that same source indicated that, contrary to reports, the Celts weren’t entirely closed to the idea of including Jayson Tatum in the deal, but that there wouldn’t have been much else included.

He then goes on to explain that when the Lakers offered a deal including three young players and a multitude of first round picks for Davis, the Celtics would in no way be willing to mortgage their future for a likely one-year rental. 

The notion of the Celtics' reluctance to offer a package with Tatum and a number of draft picks was reiterated by ESPN's Ramona Shelburne on Sunday as well. 

The Boston Celtics were serious about trading for Davis, as well. They were willing to discuss young, talented players such as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, according to sources close to the negotiations. But the Celtics were never going to give up as much as the Lakers.

During ESPN's NBA Mock Draft special earlier this week, Adrian Wojnarowski said, "If the Lakers are drafting at No. 4 on draft night, they're in trouble because that means they didn't make an Anthony Davis trade. Right now, they are not a frontrunner or even really a major consideration among any of the elite free agents."

Based on these reports, it doesn't seem like Boston had a good chance at Davis while the uncertainty of Irving loomed. The Lakers had to make this deal, and they paid the price to get a top-five player in the world. Now we'll see how the Celtics rebound and try to get their contender status back if Irving does in fact leave. 

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