A second round series between Boston and Milwaukee projected to be a brutal chess match of two tough defensive squads who raised their games to go a combined 8-1 against inferior first round playoff opponents.
The defending champion Bucks held up their end of the bargain in Game 1, leaving the Celtics looking for answers after a 101-89 defeat.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, but shot just 9-of-25 from the field. Jrue Holiday double-doubled with 25 points and 10 boards.
The story wasn’t Milwaukee’s offensive prowess. It was their defense.
The Bucks held the Celtics to 33 percent shooting, flummoxed stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown into shooting a combined 10-of-32 from the floor, forced 18 turnovers and limited Boston’s ability to make shots inside the three-point arc. They maintained a double-digit lead for much of a second half as TD Garden fans waited for a Celtics run that never came.
Milwaukee proved their postseason mettle, taking every Boston punch and producing a counter-punch. They beat the Green to the boards, grabbed the 50/50 balls and converted a bevy of points off turnovers.
Even when Antetokounmpo picked up his fourth foul with three minutes left in the third, the Celtics were unable to capitalize, and the Green were unable to get past a number of questionable calls that went against them.
It was clear that both teams game planned for the stars. Tatum, Brown and Antetokounmpo combined to shoot just 5-for-21 from the field in the first half. Shutting down the lane was another shared priority, with the clubs combining to shoot just 36 percent in the paint in the opening 24 minutes.
Boston’s star duo combined for six points and six turnovers before combining on a trio of threes (two from Tatum, one from Brown) late in the second quarter. But the Bucks put together an 11-3 run to close out the half with a 56-46 advantage.
The Celtics set the defensive tone, stripping Antetokounmpo on his first foray to the basket and tripping him up for the turnover. Rob Williams energized a first quarter charge, chipping in four points and five rebounds in the opening frame as the C’s opened up a six-point lead midway through. But Milwaukee closed the quarter with a flurry, and then, a bunny: Wes Matthews made an uncontested layup off an inbounds play to give Milwaukee a 27-24 advantage.
Marcus Smart left the contest in the first half with a shoulder stinger and quad contusion, but was able to play the second half. Milwaukee was without All-Star Khris Middleton, who is not expected to play this series due to an MCL sprain.
Game 2 is Tuesday night at TD Garden. Pregame coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. on 98.5 The Sports Hub, with the opening tip scheduled for 7:00 p.m.
PHOTOS: Celtics battle Bucks in Game 1 of 2022 playoff series
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.