The Celtics closed out the Brooklyn Nets swiftly and decisively in the first round of the playoffs. It’s going to take a whole new level to finish off the defending champions.
Boston learned that the hard way in Sunday’s 101-89 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series. In all four quarters, the incumbent Bucks showed the ascending Celtics how it’s done, saving their best basketball for the key moments and the final minutes.
The end of the first quarter set the tone for the afternoon. The Celtics raced out to a 22-14 lead, but that’s as promising as it would look for them for the rest of the day. Milwaukee closed out the first quarter with a 13-2 run to take a three-point lead into the second.
Continuing that theme, the Bucks turned it back up a notch after the Celtics cut the deficit to two with 3:03 left in the second quarter, closing with an 11-3 run to go up by 10 at halftime.
For a moment, the third quarter looked like the game could finally tilt back in the Celtics’ favor, when Giannis Antetokounmpo had to sit after committing his fourth foul. And yet, the Bucks maintained control, outscoring the Celtics 6-4 in the final three-and-a-half minutes of the quarter with Giannis watching from the bench.
The Celtics got to within eight early in the fourth quarter, but then the floodgates opened. Milwaukee went on a 7-0 run and went up by as many as 17 points in the final 12. There would be no Nets-like meltdown, no furious Celtics comeback. It’ll be hard for the C’s to come back from a double-digit deficit at all against this particular team, especially if the Bucks continue to play such sound, efficient basketball at both ends of the court.
Celtics head coach Ime Udoka denied the notion that the Celtics weren’t prepared for the Bucks’ defense. He felt the problem was more with their own execution, and now hopes the struggles are out of their system.
“It’s, in a way, good to get this dud out of the way, offensively,” Udoka said. “To lose a 12-point game when we played that poorly offensively, I think, bodes well for us. We’ll figure out what we like as far as that. I think our poor offense fueled their offense. A lot of ways to clean up and get better.”