The Bucks Finally Managed To Barely Beat The Celtics And All It Took Was Boston Resting All Their Players

Stacy Revere. Getty Images.

When we got the news that the Celts were going to be without Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford, or said another way, 80% of their starting lineup in a game against a Bucks team that was coming off 4 days rest, I think most were under the impression that we were in for a blowout. Then we learned that Robert Williams would be coming off the bench, and it became a total of 100% of the Celtics starters not being out there for the opening tip.

For some, like Smart and Jaylen, they're clearly hurt and not ready to be back yet. For Tatum, Brad explained this was a planned rest day which given all the bitching people do about his minutes, I guess you sort of have to just take. With Al, it was his normal rest management with a B2B today against the Pistons knowing Rob will probably get the day off. 

Instead, what we got was one of the most thrilling performances of the year. A crushing OT loss, which has suddenly become a theme for this team so far this season, but one where I think most Celts feel even better about this matchup than before the game even started. What does it say if the Bucks, who some say is the best team in the East and the NBA could barely beat the Celtics B and C team? To need a career night from Jrue Holiday that included a 50 foot bomb and insane outside shooting just to squeak by in OT despite having all their guys not named Bobby Portis? Giannis had to play 45 minutes in this game and played the final 19:55 straight. Jrue had to play 43 minutes. I'd be pretty embarrassed frankly. Sort of like how the "best team in the NBA" Sixers should have been embarrassed they lost to a Celtics team down 4.5 starters a week ago. 

In the end, they ran out of gas which was disappointing, but who could blame them. Their 3rd game in 5 nights. bench guys playing WAY more minutes than they're used to, against an elite team like MIL who had rested legs, it's not totally shocking the Celts got a little tired late. That's why despite other very frustrating losses we've experienced this season, I would say with this one I was bummed, but not bothered. It would have been awesome to steal this game given how well the bench played, but they unfrotunately came up a tad short.

While the focus will be on a moral victory of sorts, we do also have to keep perspective. Part of the reality of the situation is the Celts had a chance to win the season series between these two teams and extend their lead to 2.5 games. Instead, things are tied 1-1 and the lead is down to 0.5. If both teams win their final game before the break, that's where things will stand until we get back. If the Celts lose tonight and the Bucks beat the Bulls tomorrow, the Celts will be the 2 seed entering the break. I won't disagree if you tell me this was a missed opportunity, because it technically was. A fun story and the feeling we all have about this team is probably sky high at the moment despite the loss, but they did lose. That matters on some level.

It's just hard for me to get too worked up about a game in which their entire starting lineup didn't play outside of Rob's 13 minutes, and the Bucks still had a world of trouble putting them away. Something tells me you add the talent that was missing, and things probably look even better. We know this to be true, because when these two teams faced off on Christmas and everyone but Rob played, the Celts won by 21 points (139-118).

With all that said, let's dive in.

The Good

- I am quickly running out of things to say about Derrick White. Every one of these blogs feels the same when it comes time to talk about the play of DWhite, and that's because he continues to play at an All Star level regardless of the opponent

Fresh off his Player of The Week award, you could clearly see why he won it. With so many guys out and so much offensive production missing, it was time for Derrick to go nuts and take however many shots he wanted. The final tally was 24 FGA, by far his highest of the season, and the development we're watching when it comes to his aggressiveness and calling his own number in the right situations has been beautiful to watch. I don't think you could ask for better play when it comes to filling in for Smart, and I feel confident in saying this is not a fluke. The sample is large enough

3 straight games of at least 20/10, I'll remind you that this is the Celts 6th/7th player with everyone healthy. What a fucking luxury that is. What Derrick has given this team on both ends since Smart went out on 1/23 has been the stuff of legends, and really makes you laugh when you remember that people freaked out that Brad included a pick swap in the trade for him. I dunnno, maybe Brad knows what he's doing. Just a thought.

There were a couple of floaters down the stretch that White left short which were brutal, then there was that missed 3 with about 3 minutes left in OT which started the MIL run, but who gives a shit. This was a big time performance from a big time player, even in the loss. At no point did Derrick look afraid of the moment or the Bucks defense, which ranks 2nd in the NBA. With no starter talent around him, he still found ways to be effective. There was no hesitation on his jumper or his offensive approach. Aggressive Derrick is a difference maker for this team and it really feels like this current 10+ game stretch he's on has been eye opening for him in terms of how he should be playing.

What a player, what a Celtic.

- Speaking of Brad Stevens additions, how does everyone feel about Mike Muscala? Still think he won't even be able to see the court in a playoff series against MIL? Think again

Since becoming a Celtic, Moose is now up to 13.3/4.7/0.7 on 48/39% splits with 3.0 3PM a night. In his first test against MIL, I'd say he passed with flying colors. It's true that he too ran out of gas late, but who could blame him?

Muscala played 43 minutes in this game, which is the most he's played IN HIS ENTIRE CAREER. Before last night, his previous high was 38 minutes, and that came in 2019. So yeah, was his airball 3PA down the stretch tough to stomach? Of course. But I'm not going to get on a guy who still had 18/8 and played nearly double the amount of minutes than any previous game this season. 

The best part? Let's check in on the defensive end when it came to Moose's night

Pretty good!

- If there's one thing I feel confident in saying, it's that the Celts do about as good a job as humanly possible in terms of making life tough for Giannis. In their playoff series, he shot under 45% in 4 of the 7 games. In their game on Christmas, he shot 40%. Last night, just 46%. 

You see 36/13/9 and think he dominated, I see a guy that needed 26 FGA and 19 FTA just to score 36 points against Celtics back ups. Look at that frontcourt production guarding Giannis. What other teams' reserves bigs are having that type of individual success against such a dominant force? My guess is not many, if any.

This is why I also don't really get the Grant hate last night. Yes, he had a very very bad moment in a very very big spot. That was bad. He also was solid as shit defensively against Giannis, had 12/10/4 and was a +9 in his 47 minutes. That means the Celts were outscored by 17 points in the 6 minutes he sat. 

The Celts have sort of mastered the "build a wall" approach that you have to use against Giannis. They have multiple guys on the roster willing to die in order to take a charge. And they do a great job at contesting at the rim without fouling. Again, this is Giannis' last 9 games against the Celts defense

I don't see too many teams having that type of consistent success at limiting a player who tends to get whatever he wants on the basketball court. 

- That first quarter might have been the most intoxicating display of Celtics basketball I'd ever seen. A 35-27 start, I loved how they came out. They were aggressive, they were making their 3s, and most importantly, they did not turn the ball over. I think it was at that moment that we knew we had a game on our hands, and it was great to see the team set the tone early and then never really let up.

- We learned a lot about this roster in this game, and one of the most important factors has to be we now know that Sam Hauser can be effective in a playoff series against a fully healthy Bucks team. Do people buy into his shot being back yet?

You want to talk about a legit run, how about Starter Sam Hauser????

A cool 15.2/5.2/1.2 on 52/53% with 4.4 3PM in his last 5 games, 4 of which he's started. His biggest play was obviously the buzzer beater to send the game to OT, and frankly, we shouldn't have been surprised considering we've seen this before from Hauser against guess who

Outside of his shooting, I was very impressed with his work on the boards (9), and how valuable Sam is as an off ball mover. He's one of the few that we see really move without the ball and get the defense moving. Sometimes it opens up his catch & shoot three, sometimes he catches a pass off a cut and finishes at the rim, he just looks so much more comfortable on the floor which is what you expect to happen once he got a consistent run. With his defense also being more than passable, Hauser should absolutely be in the playoff rotation. I'm not sure what else people need to see.

- 15/6/6 for Blake in his 24 minutes. Hard to not love the guy who is willing to sacrifice his life in order to help this team win

He had one or two charges on Giannis which were nice, and even though Giannis eventually figured him out, between the made threes and the effort, I have nothing bad to say about Blake in this game. Whatever he gives this roster is a bonus, and he's stepped up in these shorthanded games exactly like we all could have hoped. To go from DNP-CDs to having to guard Giannis has to be tough as hell, and I thought Blake did as good a job as any end of bench big could possibly do.

The Bad

- Unfortunately, the shorthanded Celts weren't able to overcome their problem areas. We know that when this team struggles on the glass, bad things tend to happen. In this game, MIL won the rebounding battle 52-44 and had 10 OREB for 15 2nd chance points.

Once the Celts get into the final 1-2 mintues of a close game, they for whatever reason cannot defensive rebound. Up 4 with 5:19 left, Middleton grabbed an OREB and scored, to make it 107-105. 

At the 1:56 mark, the Bucks secured 2 more OREBs. At the 0:35 second mark, Joe Ingles grabbed another one. Call it fatigue if you want, but this has been a late game issue even when the regulars are active. The Celts late game rebounding has to get better, especially against big teams like MIL.

- Then of course, there were the TOs. It's no surprise that in the quarter the Celts did not turn the ball over, they looked great and built a nice lead. Then the 3rd quarter happened and the turned it over 5 times. In the 4th, there were 3 more TOs. In OT, you can add 3 more.

In the end, their 13 TOs led to 10 points, so add that up to the 15 2nd chance points and that's 25 points from self inflicted wounds. Seems pretty important in a game you lost by 6.

- I honestly don't really know where to put the game of Malcolm Brogdon. He was both really good and really bad all at once at various times in this game. His 26 points were a huge reason why the Celts had a chance

but he also had way too many misses around the rim (again), had a 4:3 assist to TO ratio, and was a -21 in his minutes. All 3 of his TOs came in the 4th quarter and OT, and that's kind of the opposite of why he's on the team. Those end of game hectic moments are when Brogdon is supposed to calm everyone down and make the right decisions, not be careless with the basketball when a game is tight.

At the same time, he did make big shots down the stretch, so I think he does deserve credit for that. 

-  I can say with certainty that Payton was not good. Not the best time for him to not make the most of his opportunity with so many players out, but he finished just 2-6 (1-4) and was a -17 in his 14 minutes. Middleton repeatedly took advantage of the size difference, and that's always going to be the issue with Payton. You can hunt him defensively. He's going to be all up in your shit and play as good as defense as humanly possible, but his height is his height and guys can just shoot right over him.

If he's also then not going to really make his threes, you can't play him. That's sadly his reality at the moment.

- There are some I imagine that are a little annoyed that Rob only played 13 mintues in this game, but I'm not really sure why. The best way to beat the Bucks is to go 5 out, and it's clear Rob is on ice really until after the break. He was a -11 in his 12 minutes so it's not as if he was dominating this game, and personally I'd rather save his body vs Giannis for when it matters. 

I think a lot of the uproar is over Joe's presser

but he's very clearly trolling here. He's not going to say "Rob isn't a good matchup" out loud. He's not going to say they were doing it for health reasons out loud. My guess is if these two teams play in a playoff series and Rob is healthy, he'll play more than 13 games. I wouldn't worry too much about last night.

- Listen, credit to Jrue Holiday. He made 8 3PM, he knocked down every big time shot he had to from behind the arc to keep the Bucks in it, no shame in tipping your cap to a guy who stepped up. 

But the 50 footer was bullshit. 

I don't know what it is, but the Celts cannot stop giving up these end of quarter buzzer beaters. It doesn't matter who they play or who takes it, every single time it goes in. I don't understand it, they even go in when contested! There has to be a way to track this information so I want to raw numbers. The Celts have to lead the league in this bullshit.

The Ugly

- The only thing in my mind that really deserves to be in this section has to be the final possession

Safe to say, this was not what any of us were looking for in that spot. Maybe you thik Grant should have never even touched the ball in that situation. I don't really have a problem with that, I just have a problem with his decision. I understand Giannis is in the vicinity, but personally I'm of the thought that this moment right here, has to be a shot

If Giannis blocks it, so be it. But in that moment, with that little time left, you can't hesitate. You have to just take that shit with confidence and live with the result. As we saw, the alternative wasn't much better than a potential Giannis block. 

It was just a shitty moment in a big spot for a guy that played his ass off all night. 

Of course, it's also true that Joe could have stopped this from even happening. As soon as he saw the play he could have called timeout. He admitted as much after the game

To me, this differs from the last time we had this situation in a late game play with Tatum against the Heat. In that game, the defense wasn't really set, he just made a bad decision/TO. In that instance, I think most should be OK with trusting Tatum to make the right play.

In this situation, the defense was set. It was clear the Celts were getting stonewalled. Given who was on the floor, I think it's more than fair to suggest Joe should have stopped everything and drawn up a different ATO play. Hey, shit happens. I would argue don't give up a 13-2 run to end OT, but that's me. This is a moment Joe will learn from and that can only help.

- I will say, I do think it's time to stop attacking Jrue Holiday on the perimeter at the end of these games with the score close. It's just not an effective offensive strategy. We saw it in the playoffs and we saw it again last night. Run something else. Force a switch. The Celts need to do a better job of taking Jrue's defense away in these end of game situations. If that means someone else has to step up and create, then so be it. That's the beauty of having both Brogdon and White on the floor right? I think we've seen enough momentum-swinging plays from Holiday defensively at the end of these games to know that trying to initiate shit late against him is probably going to end up poorly for you.

In the end, a loss is still a loss. You don't get 0.5 wins for a moral victory. So for that, the result stings a little bit. But I don't know how anyone could watch this game and wake up today feeling worse about the team with the best record in the NBA. If anything, I feel even better than I did before the game even happened.

Love and Trust,