The Celtics defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 111-100, at the Garden on Monday night. And in an interview, right before tip-off, Brad Stevens would foreshadow his strategy for this game. “Our defense needs to adapt to playing the way we were earlier in the year.” Stevens volunteered this remark with a professionally pensive look in his eyes.
Boston and Milwaukee came into this contest, moving in perpendicular directions. The Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, have been absolutely trouncing the opposition as of late, while the Celtics have recently surrendered a couple of nonplussing losses to middling teams.
Their 2017-18 average opponent points per game is 97.4; through Boston’s last 3 contests they’ve been allowed 108.7. That does not make for a happy coach.
It was clear that the C’s were in need of some recalibration. As Brad Stevens mentioned before the game, they had deviated from their defensive fundamentals and this deviation needed to stop right here.
That’s precisely what the Celtics would do: They stopped the Milwaukee Bucks like a speed-bump on the highway.
Boston would waste no time getting down to business. A masked Kyrie Irving secured the ball, during the first possession, and drove through the paint with abrasive confidence. Irving went up and glided over two defenders, banking home a signature floater.
After getting off to an expeditious 5-0 start, it was time for the Celtics to get to their agenda on defense.
From the get-go, Boston limited Milwaukee to low percentage mid-range shots. This was done by meeting Giannis Antetokounmpo and company with a rugged bulwark of big men down low.
The Celtics hit the Bucks square in the kisser.
Just about halfway through the first quarter, Aron Baynes delivered a vicious but necessary foul to Antetokounmpo, pushing a potential poster of a dunk right back into the face of the young grecian. This play would turn out to be an encapsulation of the Celtics’ approach on defense - it had its pros and cons.
The C’s were up by 13 points, entering halftime, but towards the end of the third quarter their resolve began to slip away from them.
Boston’s intrepid resistance in the paint eventually lead to foul trouble. The Celtics committed a total of 21 fouls in this game; the Bucks were in the bonus by the end of nearly every quarter. Persistently getting to the line, Milwaukee would bring the deficit back to within single digits, over the course of a reinvigorated third.
Peripheral players, such as Daniel Theis and Marcus Morris, played some big minutes for the C’s, late in this game. When it appeared that Boston was about to submit to the perpetually attacking “Greek Freak” and Eric Bledsoe, a substitution for fresh legs would come in and galvanise a reinforced stance against the onslaught.
The Celtics dominance under the bucket not only suppressed Milwaukee’s superstars, but it also crystallized in a strong rebounding performance. Boston won the battle of the boards 45-28 (37 of those rebounds were defensive).
At the end of the night, Boston's coherently engaged defense would overpower Milwaukee’s red-hot scorers.
Yes, Giannis Antetokounmpo would walk away with 40 points. He’s gonna do that to you - he’s just that talented. Conversely Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton only combined for 37 points.
Meanwhile the Celtics were captained by Kyrie Irving, who put up 32 points, and Al Horford, who nearly finished with a triple-double (20 PTS 9 REB and 8 AST).
Brad Stevens surely walked away from this 11 point victory with a beaming smile on his face. Smart defense - what was stressed during pregame and in practice - translated to in-game production for the Celtics.
This is what Boston basketball looks like - passionate, intelligent and (at times) a little bloody. On Monday night, the C’s reminded the NBA that they are one of the best defenses in this league.
The Celtics will look to carry their momentum into tomorrow’s contest, when they finish a four game homestand with the Dallas Mavericks.
Photo: (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)