Celtics

Celtics-Bucks: Three keys to a bounce-back C's victory in Game 2

Celtics
Jaylen Brown

If you thought the Boston Celtics would waltz to the Eastern Conference finals after sweeping the Brooklyn Nets, the Milwaukee Bucks gave you a wakeup call Sunday afternoon.

The Bucks muscled their way to a 101-89 victory in Game 1 of the East semifinals at TD Garden, forcing Boston to shoot just 33 percent from the floor and make just 10 2-point field goals, the second-fewest ever in an NBA playoff game.

For all of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving's talent, Sunday was evidence that the defending champion Bucks will present a much stiffer challenge in Round 2.

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This is a best-of-seven series, however, and there are adjustments Boston can make to get right back into the series with a win in Game 2. (Marcus Smart's status is also worth monitoring; the veteran guard is listed as questionable with a right quad contusion.)

To get you ready for Tuesday night's matchup at TD Garden, here are three areas where the Celtics must improve if they want to head to Milwaukee with the series tied 1-1.

Note: NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Game 2 begins Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live.

1. Get Jaylen Brown back on track

Brown was one of the worst players on the court in Game 1. He scored just 12 points (half of which came on a pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers with the game out of reach) on 4-of-13 shooting, committed a game-high seven turnovers and was a minus-12 in 38 minutes.

 

Brown had been dealing with a hamstring injury that bothered him near the end of the first round but insisted the ailment wasn't the cause for his poor play Sunday.

"I’m fine," Brown said after Sunday's loss. "I've just got to come out and play basketball and leave it all out on the floor. Can’t be any apprehension."

Jayson Tatum also struggled offensively against an aggressive Bucks defense that ran multiple defenders at him, similar to what Boston did with Kevin Durant in Round 1. But Brown saw more open looks and failed to make Milwaukee pay: Brown and Tatum combined to shoot just 32.3 percent from the floor, their lowest ever in a postseason game.

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Tatum can still impact the game when his shot is off thanks to his improved playmaking and excellent defense. Brown is more limited in those areas, however, so he needs to score in bunches and take care of the ball to make a positive impact on the game.

The Celtics are 2-4 over the last two seasons in games where Brown scores 20 points or fewer and commits at least five turnovers, so they'll need him to be much sharper offensively to have a chance in Game 2.

2. Pull Milwaukee's bigs out of the paint

The lost art of the midrange was indeed a lost art for the Celtics in Game 1: 81 of their 84 shot attempts were either beyond the arc (a franchise-playoff-record 50) or in the paint (31).

The Bucks seemed content with letting Boston chuck 3-pointers, as big men Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo stayed inside to clog the lane. That strategy worked, as the C's made just 32.2 percent of their shots in the paint with Tatum in particular meeting heavy resistance at the rim.

Boston could make Milwaukee pay in Game 2 by hitting a ton of threes, but this is a Celtics team that ranked 14th in the NBA in 3-point percentage during the regular season. If the threes aren't falling early, the Celtics should try to get midrange looks for Tatum and Brown in particular to draw Lopez and Antetokounmpo out of the paint.

Look for Ime Udoka's club to have a more spread-out offensive attack in Game 2 rather than trying to force shots at the rim against one of the NBA's best defensive frontcourts.

2. Contain Jrue Holiday

Defense wasn't the Celtics' biggest problem Sunday. They limited Milwaukee to 101 points and held Antetokounmpo to 24 points on 36 percent shooting. But they can't let Holiday be the offensive force he was in Game 1.

The veteran guard paced the Bucks with 25 points on 8-of-20 shooting while going 3-of-5 from 3-point range with five assists. While Tatum and Brown struggled to find their groove offensively, Holiday delivered clutch buckets when Milwaukee needed them to keep Boston at bay.

 

Holiday delivering clutch buckets is bad news for opponents, as the Bucks have won their last nine games when Holiday scores at least 25 points.

Antetokounmpo and Tatum are clearly the two best players in this series. If Holiday outplays Brown as the third-best player, this series may not last much longer.