Boston Celtics

BOSTON, MA - MAY 01 Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives to the basket past Robert Williams III #44 of the Boston Celtics during Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden on May 1, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

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.”

  • Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can obviously play much better than they did on Sunday. Basic improvements from the All-Star duo should make the games closer going forward. But the Bucks are not the Nets. They have experience, defense, and perhaps the best player on the planet right now. Even if the Celtics bounce back and play their best basketball, it’s still going to be a tough series.

    More takeaways from Game 1 of Celtics-Bucks…

    A bigger challenge

    May 1, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) blocks the shot of Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) in the second quarter during game one of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    May 1, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) blocks the shot of Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) in the second quarter during game one of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    The Bucks present a greater threat than the Nets simply by virtue of being the defending champions, and it’s fair to say they have the best player in the series in Giannis, even if Jayson Tatum comes alive. But they’re also literally bigger.

    In the first round, the Celtics had a clear size and length advantage over the Nets, giving them the edge on both offense and defense. Now the Bucks have the size and length advantage, especially down low. They out-rebounded the Celtics 55-48 in Game 1, and outscored them 34-20 in the paint. They clearly have a much more disruptive perimeter defense than Brooklyn could ever have.

    The result was a rough offensive afternoon for the Celtics’ two stars. Tatum and Brown combined for just 33 points on 10-of-31 shooting from the field (32.3 percent) as the Bucks defense cramped their space and often forced contested shots. Tatum and Brown also shot just 6-for-10 on free throws and missed a handful of decent looks at the basket, a sign that frustration was setting in.

    “I think they just kind of sped us up,” Tatum told reporters after the game. “We’ve just got to do a better job of doing what we want to do and not letting them dictate that throughout the course of the game.”

    For the Celtics to respond and take Game 2, it’s going to take more than just relying on secondary scoring to bury open shots. Tatum and Brown will have to find a way to set up better shots of their own and finish the makeable ones. And they’ll have to dig in more than they had to against the Nets, because the Bucks aren’t going to stop defending and competing.

    “We can’t lose our faith, can’t lose our resiliency and our confidence,” Brown said after the game.”We’ve gotta come out and play Celtics basketball.”

  • Field Day

    BOSTON, MA - MAY 01 Jrue Holiday #21 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives to the basket while guarded by Robert Williams III #44 of the Boston Celtics during Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden on May 1, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MA – MAY 01 Jrue Holiday #21 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives to the basket while guarded by Robert Williams III #44 of the Boston Celtics during Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden on May 1, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    The most glaring statistical mismatch of Game 1 was two-point shooting. Milwaukee made 25-of-56 (44.6 percent) from inside the arc, compared to just 10-of-34 (29.4 percent) for Boston.

    This disparity happened mainly because of the aforementioned Bucks defense, which frustrated Tatum and Brown almost wire-to-wire. Offensively, the Bucks’ shooters weren’t dominant in their own right, but they were efficient enough and they made timely shots. Whenever the Celtics looked to have a run in them, the Bucks would pull back away.

    Most importantly for Milwaukee, they didn’t miss the injured Khris Middleton at the offensive end. Bobby Portis, Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, and Jevon Carter combined to score 41 points on exactly 50 percent shooting (15-of-30). Point guard Jrue Holiday scored a game-high 25. If the reserves continue to pick up the slack like that, they’re going to be a tough out.

  • That’s Gotta Hurt

    May 1, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) is hurt during a play against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second quarter during game one of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    May 1, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) is hurt during a play against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second quarter during game one of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Celtics point guard Marcus Smart and center Robert Williams both appeared to get hurt during the game, but neither had to leave the game permanently. The Celtics tweeted that Smart was dealing with a right shoulder “stinger” and a right quad contusion.

    As for Williams, well … he got kicked in the nuts.

    2022-05-01 14-39-58

    Watch "2022-05-01 14-39-58" on Streamable.

    Imagine taking Giannis’ size-16 Nike directly to the frank & beans. Anyone with testicles can relate.

    So, Williams is probably going to be OK basketball-wise. Smart’s shoulder and quad issues will be something to monitor going into Game 2.

  • Busy Schedule

    BOSTON, MA - MAY 01 Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket past Brook Lopez #11 of the Milwaukee Bucks during Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden on May 1, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MA – MAY 01 Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket past Brook Lopez #11 of the Milwaukee Bucks during Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden on May 1, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    As is tradition, the Celtics and Bucks get a breather on Monday before reconvening at TD Garden for Game 2 on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Fair warning, there will then be three days off between Games 2 and 3, which feels insane. But the NBA always loves to spread out the TV schedule as much as it can.

    It’s going to be quite the week for game broadcasts on 98.5 The Sports Hub. The station will be carrying both the Celtics and Bruins throughout the week, with no scheduling conflicts. The B’s and Hurricanes kick off their Stanley Cup Playoff series Monday and play Game 2 on Wednesday, with Celtics-Bucks Game 2 sandwiched between. Then we have Bruins on Friday and Sunday, with the C’s and Bucks on Saturday.

    Click here for the full on-air schedule.