MILWAUKEE- As the Bucks try to keep pace in the incredibly tight Eastern Conference playoff race, they played host to the number two-seed Boston Celtics on Tuesday evening. Albeit injury-ridden, Boston came into the Bradley Center having won seven of their last 10 games. It wasn’t pretty, but Milwaukee took care of business at home and defeated the undermanned Celtics, 106-102.
Milwaukee improved to 42-36 on the season, and thanks to a loss by the Wizards and a comeback victory by the Heat, the Bucks are tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference standings. The team is technically still the 8-seed, but has the easiest remaining schedule out of the three teams listed in competition.
The Bucks were coming off of a bad loss versus Denver, and also may play Boston in the playoffs, so this Tuesday night showdown loomed large.
Milwaukee got off to a very sloppy start on both sides of the ball, giving away three turnovers and allowing 17 points in under five minutes to start the game, while scoring just nine points. Star wing Khris Middleton kept the Bucks afloat, though, beginning 3/3 for eight points, while the rest of the team was also hot, shooting 6/8.
After the first quarter, the Celtics led 31-26. Middleton led all scorers with 10 points on 100% shooting from the field, while Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led Boston with eight points apiece. Both teams also shot well over 50% from the field, so scoring wasn’t really an issue.
In the second quarter, the home team started to slow things down and get back on track, thanks to quality minutes from Jabari Parker and mid-season acquisition Tyler Zeller off the bench. The Bucks outscored Boston 32-25 in the second quarter, and led 58-56 at the break. It certainly felt like Milwaukee should have been up by more than two, but turnovers were an issue for the Bucks, and the last one of the half led to a deep buzzer-beating three-pointer from Tatum.
The third quarter is where Milwaukee really took hold of this one. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton continued their hot shooting, while the defense really stepped up against an undermanned but deep Celtics team. In 12 minutes of play in the third, the Bucks held Boston to just 15 points, creating a 79-71 lead headed into the final quarter.
Boston wings Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum helped make the game very tight in the final quarter, but thanks to bench scoring from Parker, tough post defense by Zeller, and an incredible late game block by Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee held on for the much-needed victory, 106-102.
Milwaukee’s closing of this game wasn’t perfect, but was much better than that against Denver, and Coach Prunty was asked about it after the game. “We did better. Now there are still things that we can clean up. We did have a turnover. We’ll look at everything and figure out what is the best way to clean it up. Overall, it was positive in terms of things that took place.”
As previously mentioned, Tyler Zeller also provided some big minutes off the bench in the victory. Coach Prunty was also asked about his impact in the game against some of Boston’s big men, and had quite a bit to say.
“Tyler’s a big, physical, body. He ends up making like four baskets for us, right around the rim. Of course now (*smiles*), the one that I’m thinking about is the one that he missed when it was like 36-35 or something like that, to take the lead. That’s, I guess how coaches think, right? But, that having been said, we need his physicality. We need him to be a presence inside both on offense and on defense, and we need it every time he steps on the court. You know, for all our guys, it isn’t ‘Ok, I sub in, and I start to get a rhythm.’ You’ve watched the game, you know what’s going on, you know what we need, now step in and start doing those things. So, like I said, for him, his physicality, battling inside, they (Celtics) are going into Moose (Monroe), you know, he’s guarding pick and rolls, they’ve got Baynes rolling to the basket different times. Then, offensively, setting screens, and again, you have to finish at the rim around the basket.”
Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 29 points, and needs just 15 more to score 2,000 points for the season.
Milwaukee will look to clinch the final Eastern Conference playoff spot Thursday at home, against the Brooklyn Nets.