Following Wednesday night’s home loss to the Detroit Pistons, there was a lot of talk among the Celtics players about the need to bring forth better effort against Milwaukee.
While the effort was indeed better against the Bucks, the Celtics once again came up short in Thursday’s 128-123 loss to Milwaukee.
Boston trailed by as many as 27 points, only to be within two possessions (127-121) with 51.1 seconds to play.
On the ensuing Celtics possession, Boston inched closer following a Jayson Tatum dunk.
Marcus Smart would force a turnover, but his 3-point shot moments later was off the mark which all but sealed the Celtics’ fate in their fifth loss in their last seven games.
The Celtics are too good to get caught up in moral victories.
But clawing back from such a huge deficit on the road against the best team in the NBA, certainly has to be seen as one of the positives that Boston will take away from Thursday’s loss.
He was pretty hard on himself following the loss to Detroit on Wednesday, letting everyone know that he has to play better in order for the Celtics to be the best version of itself going forward.
Walker was all that and then some for Boston against the Bucks, finishing with a game-high 40 points on 14-for-23 shooting in addition to grabbing 11 rebounds for his second double-double this season.
It was the kind of performance that the Celtics were hoping would set a tone that others would follow.
But for most of Thursday’s game, Walker had very little support offensively from his teammates.
So as much as Walker will feel as though he could have done more to help the team win, that’s just not true.
He did exactly what the best player on the floor is supposed to do in games against the best of the best.
But far too many of his teammates struggled at both ends of the floor which can’t happen on the road against an elite team such as the Bucks.
His numbers to the surprise of no one, were impressive as he finished with a monster double-double of 32 points and 17 rebounds along with dishing out seven assists and blocking a couple shots.
But what really stood out about Antetokounmpo’s play against the Celtics was the ability he has shown to pick his spots when to be uber-aggressive and when to keep the ball moving and find one of the bevvy of shooters he’s usually surrounded by when he’s on the floor.
He’s the league’s reigning MVP and the more you watch him play, the clearer it becomes that as good as he was a year ago, he has made significant strides in his play.
Much of the focus will center on how he’s shooting the 3-point shot better. But the real area of growth in his game, is the feel he has for how to play.
And that’s why the Celtics, the Miami Heat, Philly … any team they face in the East will have their hands full against a Milwaukee team which is led by the best player on the planet right now who is only getting better with time.
ROLE PLAYERS’ IMPACT
As good as Giannis Antetokounmpo was on Thursday, the players surrounding him were just as impressive.
Donte DiVencenzo had a career-high 19 points off the bench while Khris Middleton (23 points), Brook Lopez (16 points) and George Hill off the bench (12 points) were solid as well.
But what makes this Milwaukee team so special is that in addition to scoring from lots of different players, they also defend at an elite level.
Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum both struggled mightily when it came to making shots, and the Bucks defense had a lot to do with that.
Because of Antetokounmpo’s status as one of the NBA’s best players, the play of those around him gets very little fanfare.
But make no mistake about it.
The Bucks are indeed a championship-caliber team with the kind of depth that causes problems for most teams, the Celtics included.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Suns-Celtics, which begin Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.