By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Much like the announcer says in that commercial where the Andersons get tickets to the game (how’d they get tickets?), the opening Sunday afternoon contest between the Celtics and Bucks was an NBA classic.
En route to a 113-107 overtime victory, Boston answered a number of postseason questions with an emphatic “Yes!”
Jayson Tatum (in a double-double performance), Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier – at a combined age of 64 years – stepped forward and teamed up to score 62 points. Al Horford’s veteran leadership manifested in the proverbial 20-10 game, as the big man dished out four assists, blocked three shots and collected two steals to go along with 24 points and 12 rebounds in 44 minutes – his highest total as a Celtic. And Marcus Morris continued to pour in points off the bench with 21.
Meanwhile, Boston frustrated and fouled out both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe while forcing 20 Milwaukee turnovers.
All that, and they still needed overtime to seal the win.
The juicy box score tells a bit of a fib. Cherry-pick some statistics, and you’ve got a convincing set of data to support the undermanned Celtics on a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. The uneven effort and multiple near-cardiac events? Fodder for those salivating over the potential for an upset.
Just 10 teams seeded seventh or lower have advanced past the first round since the NBA expanded the playoffs to 16 teams back in 1984. Since the league moved from best-of-five to best-of-seven back in 2003? Just four teams have moved on.
Sometimes, there’s an injury involved. In the most recent example, the Bulls fell to the 76ers in 2012 when Derrick Rose succumbed to a catastrophic knee malady.
Celtics fans nearly saw the same script play out in 2009, when Boston faced an upstart Chicago team without Kevin Garnett. It took seven games to dispatch the baby Bulls, with Rajon Rondo nearly averaging a triple-double, Kendrick Perkins posting a double-double, and Glen Davis somehow contributing 18 points a night in support of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
The Green have played remarkably well without their two leading scorers. All indications have Marcus Smart returning soon. But it’s a lot easier to integrate Big Baby into an established veteran lineup than to call upon three relative newcomers to score more than half of your points.
The Celtics were ready for the challenge in Game 1. They hit the big shots, particularly Rozier, who followed what should have been a game-winning three in regulation with eight points in the overtime period. They made 7-of-8 foul shots in OT.
It was also a home game. They benefited from a discrepancy in foul calls. Bledsoe was off and the Bucks had just three players in double figures.
To beat Milwaukee four times in the next couple of weeks, the Celtics will need to harvest a few more individual performances like the ones they had Sunday. With Antetokounmpo on the other side of the court and Khris Middleton playing like a borderline All-Star, it won’t be easy.
After all, nobody wants to wind up in the background of a present-day reenactment of that famous Dikembe Mutombo celebration.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.
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