The Boston Celtics were faced with the challenge of stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo on Wednesday night, and they answered the bell in impressive fashion.
After trailing by 19 points, the Celtics came all the way back to defeat the Bucks 116-105 in an all-around effort which saw Boston’s starting five combine for 107 of its 116 points.
The Celtics’ never-say-die attitude was aided by sharp perimeter defense, led by Marcus Smart, and a wild 38-point third quarter to get them back into this one.
Kemba Walker (32 points), Jayson Tatum (25), Gordon Hayward (21), Marcus Smart (19) and Daniel Theis (11) all finished in double figures for Boston.
Khris Middleton led the way for Milwaukee with 26 points and six rebounds.
Here’s how it all went down:
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Gordon Hayward
C: Daniel Theis
Boston did its best with Milwaukee’s offensive firepower in the early going, but the Bucks made sure to target the mismatch of Daniel Theis. The undersized big man got the start for the Celtics in what was a difficult matchup, but Brad Stevens quickly utilized Grant Williams and Robert Williams off the bench.
Robert Williams provided some rim protection for Boston with blocks like this:
But unfortunately for the Celtics, Milwaukee was a bit too much to handle early on with their length and depth.
Boston trailed 34-19 after one. Walker led the way with seven first-quarter points, but his team-high 10 minutes resulted in an ugly minus-14 rating.
C’S STRUGGLES CONTINUE
The Bucks offensive push didn’t stop in the second quarter. Milwaukee extended its lead out to 19 just three minutes into the frame. The Celtics used some strong perimeter defense to minimize the deficit, however, using a quick run to cut the Bucks’ lead to 11 with just two minutes later.
But the Bucks perimeter shooting was once again just too much, even off one leg.
The Bucks shot 46.5 percent in the first half, with Antetokounmpo and Middleton each collecting nine points.
Despite their struggles, the Celtics remained in the game, trailing by 13 at the half. Much of that was thanks to Boston forcing eight Milwaukee turnovers.
Walker and Smart each had 11 first-half points.
DEFENSE LEADS THE WAY
Boston’s defense kept them in it once again early in the third, allowing them to stay within striking distance. Milwaukee began the game 5-of-9 from deep, but they went just 5-of-21 from that point forward. Smart helped lock down the paint, opening up the rest of the floor for the Celtics.
Four consecutive stops turned into a swift 10-2 run, cutting the Bucks’ lead to just seven with 4:35 to go in the third quarter.
Boston wouldn’t stop there. After trailing by as much as 19, the Celtics used a 23-7 run to take a 77-76 lead with less than one minute remaining in the third, and TD Garden nearly erupted following a Tatum 3-pointer. The third-year guard finished off the frame with another triple, capping off a wild 26-7 run to complete a monster third quarter.
Boston outscored Milwaukee 38-18 in the third, led by Smart’s defense and Tatum (16 points) and Walker (19) on the offensive end.
FIGHT TO THE FINISH
Boston led by seven with 7:40 left in the fourth, as its on-ball pressure continued to stifle Milwaukee’s offensive rhythm.
Tatum’s impressive stretch continued with a ridiculous dunk that gave the Celtics an 11-point lead with just over seven minutes to go.
This dunk pushed Boston’s 12-minute run up to 37-11.
Hayward played a huge role in the comeback, pushing his second-half point total up to 16 with under five minutes left in regulation. He’d collect his first 20-point, 10-rebound game in a Celtics uniform, per the team.
Every time the Bucks made a push to cut the lead to single digits, Walker would get a bucket on the other end, preserving the Celtics lead. Boston’s hot shooting would ultimately serve as too much for Milwaukee.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Tatum’s back-to-back 3-pointers is the sequence of the night.
The Celtics welcome the New York Knicks to TD Garden for the first time this season come Friday, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. ET.