BOSTON — Between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker alone, the Milwaukee Bucks have good reason to be excited about the future.
But the present belonged to the Celtics on Friday night.
After withstanding an early barrage from Antetokounmpo, the Celtics logged one of their most complete games of the season, reaching 101 points by the end of the third quarter and racking up 35 assists on 44 made baskets in a 124-109 blowout win at TD Garden.
The Celtics led by 21 points entering the fourth quarter, and the extended garbage time allowed Tyler Zeller to tie his career high with 26 points. That snapped Isaiah Thomas’ franchise-record streak of 17 games as Boston’s leading scorer, as the All-Star point guard “only” scored 20.
Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley each scored 16 and Jared Sullinger dropped 15.
Antetokounmpo (27 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and Parker (18 points, five rebounds) carried the Bucks but couldn’t prevent the C’s from coasting to their fourth consecutive win.
Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger
The man they call “The Greek Freak,” lived up to the hype and then some in the first quarter.
Antetokounmpo killed the Celtics with his versatility from the jump, stretching the floor with a pair of 3-pointers and leaving defenders in the dust with coast-to-coast drives to the bucket:
The 6-foot-11 super-point guard racked up 17 points, four rebounds and three assists in the first quarter alone, as the Bucks shot 65 percent from the floor as part of a 35-point frame. Yet the Celtics kept pace, as a late Olynyk 3-pointer helped them enter the second quarter down just five.
PASSING IN THE FAST LANE
The Celtics used some excellent ball movement to storm ahead in the second quarter.
Boston started the quarter on a 16-6 run, as a goggle-rocking Evan Turner found Zeller and Bradley for a pair of nice buckets. Turner, Marcus Smart and Olynyk capped the run with a beautiful alley-oop sequence that brought the TD Garden crowd to its feet.
Boston assisted on 13 of 14 made field goals in the frame and scored 14 of its 35 points on the fast break.
The Celtics also managed to contain Antetokounmpo in the second quarter, holding him to just three points while forcing him to commit a pair of offensive fouls. They closed the half on an 11-3 run to open up a seven-point lead.
STEPPING ON THE GAS
The C’s ran away with things in the second half.
Boston continued to play excellent team basketball in the third quarter, racking up seven more assists to balloon their lead to double digits. The C’s also benefited from several trips to the free throw line, going 14 for 15 from the charity stripe in the frame.
The Bucks continued to fade after their fast start. Antetokounmpo was exiled to the bench early in the quarter after picking up his fifth foul, and Boston’s defense held what was left of Milwaukee’s squad to just 22 points on 33 percent shooting.
The C’s poured in 34 points in the frame to reach the century mark with 12 minutes still to play.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
For the first time since Feb. 29, someone not named Thomas led the Celtics in scoring.
Zeller saw extended minutes with the Celtics up big and made the most of them, scoring 17 of his 26 points in the second half and going 9 for 15 from the field to end Thomas’ impressive run.
Zeller entered the night averaging 5.9 points per game.
PLAY OF THE NIGHT
Smart channeled his inner Tom Brady just before the end of the first half, hitting Sullinger with a beautiful full-court pass with less than two seconds remaining on the clock.
A crucial three-game stretch to end the season. The Celtics will travel to Atlanta on Saturday to battle the Hawks, then return home to play the Charlotte Hornets on Monday and the Miami Heat on Wednesday. All four teams were separated by one and a half games entering Friday’s action. Tip-off at Philips Arena is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images