Five Takeaways from Boston's Thursday night loss in Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE -- The Boston Celtics have long since ditched the “good try, good effort” days when their talent was no match most nights and the ability to keep games close was a victory of sorts in itself.
Which is why Thursday night’s 98-97 loss at Milwaukee was a mixed bag of sorts for the Celtics.
They looked very much like a team that had not played in more than a week, missing lots of shots that they would normally make while failing to lock down defensively in the game’s closing moments that, in hindsight, proved costly.
But even with all that went wrong most of the night, they were a late-game Kyrie Irving made basket away from stealing the win.
However, the Celtics once again failed to close out a game that was theirs for the taking with a slew of defensive lapses in the game’s closing moments with none being more egregious than a missed rotation that left Khris Middleton wide open for a 3-pointer with 32.5 seconds to play that proved to be the game-winning shot.
“We were right there,” Marcus Smart told NBC Sports Boston after the loss. “A play here, a call there, it’s a different outcome. We have to be better; that’s all. We have to be better.”
Here are five takeaways from Boston’s Thursday night loss in Milwaukee.
We’ve often talked about how Marcus Morris was arguably the team’s most consistent player the first half of this season. Since then, Al Horford has been that guy. His play of late has been at an All-Star level, the kind of play that gives Boston every reason to believe he will be one of the team’s biggest difference-makers once the playoffs arrive. And against the Bucks, Horford delivered a historic performance in tallying 21 points, 17 rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks. He is only the fourth player in franchise history to have a stat line that good.
The numbers for Jayson Tatum are up in just about every statistical category from his rookie year except 3-point shooting. More than anything, we have seen a more aggressive Tatum who looks to attack defenses off the dribble with the goal being to finish at the rim.
Tatum had 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting along with 10 rebounds. Of his seven made baskets, four of them were either lay-ups, dunks or less than 10 feet away from the rim.
This season, he's averaging 16.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
Boston’s defense had shown clear signs of slippage prior to Thursday night’s matchup against Milwaukee. A perennial top-five team defensively, Boston’s defensive rating in the month of February ranks 15th in the NBA - a far cry from them being their season ranking (4th).
Even more disturbing is how they seem to fall apart at that end of the floor late in games. Boston’s defensive rating this season in the fourth quarter ranks sixth in the NBA. But in the month of February, they have been seemingly been at their worst defensively with a defensive rating of 118.0-- ranking 25th in the NBA.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ second unit only outscored Boston’s 23-21, but it was no contest when it came to which unit had the greater impact. It was the Bucks’ backups, by a mile. Aside from Jaylen Brown (15 points, 6-for-9 shooting), the Celtics got very little production from its reserves. Meanwhile, Milwaukee only had three of its five backups to see action score. However, those that did not score (George Hill and Sterling Brown) made an impact defensively which was evident in part by their plus/minus for the game being +10 and +1, respectively. As for the Celtics, all five of their backups that saw action against the Bucks had a negative plus/minus ranging from -4 (Terry Rozier and Guerschon Yabusele) to Brown (-14).
For all that did not go right for Boston, the one thing they did a good job with most of the game was not beating themselves with turnovers. Boston turned the ball over just seven times all game, resulting in just two points for the Bucks. Meanwhile, the Celtics forced Milwaukee into turning the ball over 16 times which led to 14 points for Boston. Those turnovers not only gave Boston more opportunities to score (they wound up taking 102 shots compared to 88 for Milwaukee), but also kept the Bucks’ high-scoring offense from scoring in bunches.