By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Celtics made one hell of a statement in Milwaukee on Sunday, punching the Bucks in the mouth with a 112-90 victory in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series. Boston takes a potentially crucial 1-0 lead with the road win, putting themselves in position to advance by simply taking care of business in their home games.
Kyrie Irving and Al Horford both dominated for the C’s, combining for 46 points. Horford defended the rim as well as he has all season against Milwaukee and MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo, resulting in the Bucks superstar’s worst performance of the season against Boston.
The C’s double-teamed and defended the paint well from start to finish, leaving the Bucks to have to drain three-pointers to stay in the game. Besides a big run in the second quarter, Milwaukee didn’t have nearly enough consistency from downtown to keep up.
Here are four general takeaways and observations from how the Celtics’ Game 1 statement win went down.
— Big Al gets the best of Giannis. Horford dominated both ends of the floor, scoring 20 points to go with 11 rebounds. But what really made the difference for the Celtics was Horford’s defense around the rim against Giannis. Getting to the basket through the paint was a struggle for most of the afternoon for Milwaukee, who often faced a wall of 2-3 defenders in transition. They ultimately didn’t have enough perimeter shooting to make up for the Celtics’ dominance in the paint.
— Kyrie wins the battle of the superstars. Irving approached triple-double status with 26 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds. He both scored and facilitated in the fourth quarter when the C’s pulled away. As for Giannis? He “got his” with 22 points, but that’s not going to be enough when he’s shooting just 7-for-21 from the field with a minus-24 rating and only 5-of-10 from the line. Irving and Horford were the two best players on the floor and it’ll be tough for the Bucks to win the series if that keeps happening.
— Once again, Celtics go backward in second quarter. The C’s had a team plus/minus of plus-196 in the first quarter over the regular season. That number was plus-1 in the second quarter. That theme continued in the series opener, as the Celtics built a 26-17 lead after one quarter only to cough it all the way up in the second. A 21-4 Bucks run in the middle of the quarter temporarily put them up by two, but Boston battled back from there to survive the first half with a 2-point lead. Holding Giannis to 8 points on 2-for-7 shooting in the half certainly helped and the C’s obviously bounced back from there.
— Giannis comes alive, but it’s too late. The Greek Freak finally turned it on in the fourth quarter when he realized he should just start chucking more threes. He scored 9 of his 22 points in the final 12 minutes, but it wasn’t nearly enough to get his team back into it. The Bucks need more from their secondary scorers as it is, but they definitely can’t have Giannis playing as inefficiently as he did on Sunday.
Game 2 takes place on Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Fiserv Forum. You can get the call of the game with Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell right here on 98.5 The Sports Hub, 985TheSportsHub.com, and the 98.5 The Sports Hub app.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.