If nothing else, the first Boston Celtics game in over four months was thrilling.
Despite falling into an early 17-2 hole, the Celtics clawed back against the Bucks, but ultimately fell short as Milwaukee claimed a 119-112 win in the first seeding round game for both teams.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, somewhat unsurprisingly, undressed the Celtics, namely with a 16-point fourth quarter. He finished with 36 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists, leading the Bucks in all three categories. He was one of four Bucks to post double-figure scoring.
Five Celtics finished in double figures, with Marcus Smart leading the way with 23 points. Jaylen Brown (22 points), Gordon Hayward (17 points, nine rebounds and six assists), Kemba Walker (16), Brad Wanamaker (14) and Daniel Theis (13 points, 12 rebounds) also scored in the double digits.
The Celtics fell to 43-22 with the loss, while the Bucks climbed to 54-12 with the win.
Here’s how it all went down:
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
HORRID … THEN BETTER
The Celtics looked like a team that hadn’t played in a competitive game in over four months. Well, at first. After falling in an early hole, the C’s finished the first down 33-25.
It took just 3:38 for the Bucks to go surging to a 17-2 lead, with Antetokounmpo accounting for eight of those points. But the Celtics showed some nice resolve, putting together an 11-2 run in the middle of the frame to pull back within five, and from there Boston kept chipping away and pulling as close as two.
Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton each had a game-high eight points in the quarter.
If not for a late surge, the Celtics could’ve gone into the break in a tough hole. Instead, they finished the quarter mostly well, ultimately outscoring the Bucks 33-31 in the second to head into the break down 64-58. Not bad considering they immediately went down by 15 to start the game.
Boston trailed by as many as 14 in the second quarter, but they scored 14 of the stanza’s 23 points to keep things within reach.
Antetokounmpo led all players with eight second-quarter points and 16 first-half points.
The Celtics spent the better part of three quarters cutting into the Bucks’ lead, and with two minutes left in the third quarter, they finally broke through. Boston outscored Milwaukee 29-23 in the frame to go into the final stanza tied at 87.
With 2:36 to go in the quarter, Smart drove to the basket, fighting through contact to make a layup and get to the line. And in hitting the free throw, Smart tied the game at 80, the first time the score was deadlocked since 0-0.
SMART 💪💪 pic.twitter.com/RyJlelBMrk
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 1, 2020
The Bucks would go back up by two, but the next trip down the floor Smart would hit a triple to give Boston its first lead of the game at the 2:00 mark.
Robin Lopez led all players with nine points in the frame, while Smart paced the Celtics with eight.
Missed opportunities ultimately sunk the Celtics, as the Bucks outscored Boston 31-27 to secure the victory.
Much of the quarter was level-pegging with the two sides trading chances through a good chunk of the frame. The Bucks had a few chances in the back half of the quarter to push it to a two-possession game, but missed shots from the perimeter allowed the Celtics to hang around.
But poor shot selection nearly sank the Celtics. With just over one minute to play, Brown took a heavily contested three, which he missed, the Bucks went down and put themselves ahead by six with a Middleton trey. And though the Celtics continued scoring, that six-point advantage gave the Bucks enough room to close things out.
The Celtics almost were bailed out a couple times, as Antetokounmpo played the end of the game on five fouls. Twice, he had fouls called on him that would have knocked him out of the game, but both times they were reviewed and overturned.
PLAY OF THE GAME
A solid connection.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) July 31, 2020
The Celtics return to action Sunday with a matinee against the Portland Trail Blazers. Tip from “The Arena” is set for 3:30 p.m. ET.
Thumbnail photo via Ashley Landis/Pool USA TODAY Sports Images