MILWAUKEE – It was only last week that the Celtics faced the Milwaukee Bucks at the TD Garden, a game that's remembered more for what happened the night before in Cleveland when Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury than the outcome, a 108-100 Celtics loss.
But tonight features a different Celtics team, one that comes in with a better focus than what we saw in the eight-point loss to Milwaukee.
- Young Celtics duo shines as they embrace a great opportunity
- What's Greek for MVP? Could be Giannis-Antetokounmpo
- Kyrie's drive to succeed heads down a different path without Heyward
- Tatum and Brown need a nickname - help us give them one
Boston was less than 24 hours removed from Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury, one that left saw them still in a state of shock.
That’s why tonight’s game between the Celtics and the Bucks would be a greater barometer as to where each stands in the race to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Bucks coach Jason Kidd has his team off to a 3-1 start, but he knows the Celtics team that his squad faced last week was in a very different state of mind than the confident bunch that has won its past two.
“They’re going to be a little bit different team just because of what took place with Hayward and the injury there,” Kidd said. “They have some young, talented players over there playing at a high level.”
Jaylen Brown turned 21 on Tuesday and celebrated it with a 110-89 win over the New York Knicks in which he finished with a career-high 23 points. Also, rookie Jayson Tatum had a big game as well before finishing with a career-high 22 points.
And then there’s Kyrie Irving, a player Kidd has made no secret about being concerned with trying to limit his impact.
“Kyrie is one of the best players on the planet,” Kidd said. “And so, again, they’re playing well. They understand their roles. They were in shock that first time, after that injury.”
Hayward’s injury aside, the Celtics (2-2) know any shot they have at winning will hinge in some part on how well they defend the league’s top scorer, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He comes into tonight’s game average a league-best 36.8 points per game and is seeking to score 30 or more points for the fifth game in a row.
Only one Bucks player (Marques Johnson) has ever had more than four consecutive games with 30 or more points scored.
Look for the Celtics to throw a number of different players defensively at Antetokounmpo, including Al Horford who has done an exceptional job defensively thus far despite being called upon to defend perimeter-oriented big men such as Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, to the powerful types like Sixers center Joel Embiid, to New York’s Kristaps Porzingis.
Despite having to try and limit players with an assortment of skills and strengths, Horford has managed to do more than just hold his own.
More often than not thus far this season, he has come out ahead which is evident him having a defensive rating of 93.3, which is tops among all Celtics who averaged at least 10 minutes played per game.
“A lot of names get thrown around, rightfully so, in the defensive talk around the league,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “There’s a lot of really good defenders but Al’s right up there, and doesn’t always get mentioned and that’s okay with Al. He’s okay with just contributing to winning whether he gets talked about or not.”