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It Will Always Be Fun Beating The Bucks (Again) As The Celtics Extend Their Current Winning Streak To 7 Games

Adam Glanzman. Getty Images.

You would think that after 6 days off and a game against the top team in the conference while you are battling for the 2 seed we would have seen Giannis return to the lineup for such a marquee game, but early yesterday we learned he was still suffering from Horforditis and was unfortunately punting on the game. We'll see if he magically overcomes this issue tonight when the Bucks play the Nets, but there's no denying that the juice of this matchup definitely took a hit with his absence. Things went a step further once we got closer to the game and we learned that Jrue Holiday was also going to miss the game, so it's a bit of a bummer that of the 3 meetings so far between BOS/MIL, only 1 of them has come with both sides fully healthy and active with both sides on normal rest. That game came in November, and with their final meeting coming on 4/9 and so close to the playoffs, my guess is that's the only time we'll get it this entire season. That stinks. 

What's eerie is how similar this game was to that first meeting. Both games saw the Celts get relatively whatever they wanted offensively (122 points and 119 points), both games saw the Celts have at least a 15 point lead entering the 4th quarter (one game with Giannis and one without) and both games saw the Bucks have a run to make it close, only for the Celts to execute enough down the stretch to win. They even both had an end of game meaningless Dame buzzer beating 3 to bring the lead from 6 to 3 to help Bucks fans cope with the fact that they are yet to beat the Celtics this year on normal rest. 

Given that the East standings currently look like this

These games over the last month of the season are relatively meaningless when it comes to seeding. The Celts magic number to secure the 1 seed is just 3 with 13 to play. All that matters now is seeing how they react to certain in game situations and health. That's it. That's the benefit of being locked in from Game 1 through Game 69 (nice). As they say, in the NBA you win early so you can rest late, and that is now the reality for this team.

But to me, there's still value in games like last night both in the positives and negatives of what we saw. Sure it's always great to beat MIL (again), but given the Celts lead in the conference, at this point the process is almost more important than the result.

With that said, let's dive in.

The Good

- He may not have led the team in scoring, but make no mistake, there is only one rightful way to start this blog and that is with the play of Payton Pritchard

I can't imagine how a Bucks fan feels this morning trying to accept the fact that little Payton Pritchard completely bitched their entire roster…again. Just like we saw in that Game 7 back in 2022. Watching him outmuscle Brook Lopez for rebounds, cook whatever Bucks defender tried to stay with him off the dribble, and then also knock down his open 3s while playing with a shit ton of energy, there's no denying that Payton set the tone in this game. Hell, Derrick White pretty much confirmed it

With no Jrue I thought it was going to be pretty important for Payton to not just show up defensively, but also provide the same sort of efficient scoring that we've come to experience with Holiday. The fact that he responded with 19/6/3 on 7-11 (5-8) with only 1 TO in his 31 minutes off the bench is exactly what the doctor ordered. Based on what he said after the game it looks like Pat Bev pulled a Grant Williams and his trash talk unlocked something in Pritchard

and listening to that has me ready to run through a goddamn wall. Payton Pritchard wants ALL THE SMOKE and that's why we love him. He's a dawg. It's like a way better version of Joe Mazzulla the player. Payton is a basketball psycho and the leap he's made this year as a backup point guard has been way better than I think most of us imagined it would look now that he had a more defined role. 

He's always been able to shoot, but we're now seeing a version of Payton that is way more comfortable running an offense and is MUCH better when it comes to reading a defense and having the right type of patience on drives. He's keeping his eyes up and his dribble low, and his passing and ball security has been the most noticeable difference for me. Oh, and he's played in every game this season. Dawg.

- If these games against the Bucks have shown us anything, it's basically confirmed what we already knew. They do not have the wing defense to handle the Celtics' two best players. They are too old, too slow, and not long enough. Whether it's Malik Beasley, Jae Crowder, or Khris Middleton, they have not solved that matchup problem. To see what I'm talking about, simply watch the performance of Jayson Tatum

Again, this isn't just a Bucks problem, this is a problem for about 99% of the league. If you don't have the perimeter defense to stay in front of the Jays and limit their ability to attack, you're cooked. In the two wins on normal rest this year, Tatum is averaging 27 a game against MIL on 44.4/37.5% splits. Jaylen is averaging 23.5 on 51.6/55.6% splits and as a reminder, that includes a game where Giannis played.

This is something that I think gets lost when talking about this matchup because people see the final score and think these issues don't exist. The Bucks have shown no real ability to provide any sort of defensive resistance against the Celts two best players, and that's not exactly changing any time soon. Jae Crowder and Khris Middleton aren't getting younger or quicker. Malik Beasley isn't going to morph into some sort of lock down defender. Dame is a disaster on that end. To ignore that reality is simply living in denial.

Just look at how Tatum played in this game. Early, he got whatever he wanted and barely missed, finishing the first half 8-11. Then at the end of the game, when it came time to come through in the clutch, we saw him bully his individual defender with ease and either finish at the rim or get to the line. For my money, this Tatum approach is exactly what we need to see from him come the playoffs, especially late in games. There was no settling because he knew he had the advantage over his defender, so he adjusted his approach and got aggressive. That matters.

- When I say Al Horford is perfect I mean it. Last night it meant a perfect 3-3 (2-2) for 8/4/4/1/1 in his 38 minutes (!!!!) while ending the night a team best +15. There's something about this Bucks matchup that just unleashes something in Al, and it's why their B2B loss was such a bummer because it was a game Horford was forced to sit. 

He's been terrorizing this team and fanbase for years now, and it doesn't look like that's changing anytime soon.

- One fun part of this current 7 game winning streak has been the play of Aggressive Derrick White. Over his last 4 games we're seeing White be 3rd on the team in FGA (16.8) which is 5 more FGA a night than his average (11.5) and he's responded with 20.5/7.3/6.51.3/1.8 on 43/46% splits over that span. When Derrick is aggressive like this it changes everything about him as a player

Same thing here as we saw with the wing position. The Bucks do not have the point of attack defense to limit the bigger Celts guards. Dame can't do it, Pat Bev can't do it, Pat Connaughton can't do it, it's just a bad matchup. Seeing as how they also have to focus extra help on the wings (and KP), it allows Derrick to have multiple possessions where he can simply catch and shoot and not have to dribble, something he's now shot over 40% on over the last 2 seasons. 

When he does put on on the floor, he can unleash his floater or take it all the way to the rim, where he continues to improve as a lob thrower. When you add all that up, you get his 23/5/8 with 2 blocks and 0 TOs in his 37 minutes. Not only that, he held Dame scoreless on the 12 possessions they were matched up, so this was yet another masterclass two way performance from our beloved bald point guard. 

- I loved how Jaylen once again took the toughest defensive assignment. It's part of what makes him so awesome. The fact that we saw him guard Dame 94 feet and hold him to just 4 FGA on 34 possessions is bit time stuff, and to me that's leading from the front. When the best players step up and do shit like that, everyone else falls in line. Considering this is something Jaylen first started to do last playoffs and has continued to do all year is another reason why in my opinion this is the best season of his career. He's bringing it on both ends of the floor while demanding to guard the best player night in and night out, regardless of position.

Also, talk about redemption. Those two missed FTs in the 4th quarter were a disaster. Something that absolutely cannot happen in that moment in a close game. So what does Jaylen do? He responds by knocking down the two biggest FTs of the game on one end, and then on the other end played picture perfect defense on "Dame Time" to seal the win

Those are two BIG TIME clutch moments on both ends of the floor, and frankly the Celts probably lose the game without what Jaylen and Tatum did at the end of this game.

- That's where I'd like to go next. Clutch time offense. You know, the only thing that apparently matters when it comes to the Celtics, or is that not the case anymore because the Celts came through? It's hard to keep track really. I somehow missed all the think pieces last night and hot takes about the Celtics doing well in the clutch compared to when they've lost in the clutch, so that was a bit confusing.

The point is, at this point of the season these games mean nothing. The standings are locked. What I think matters is seeing how the Celts respond to certain situations that they may face in the playoffs. Guess what? There's going to be a game where the Celts have a big lead, the other team goes on a run, and the Celts are going to have to come through in big moments. Getting those reps in now can only help, regardless of the result.

If they fail, it gives them things to work on. If they succeed like last night, it gives them a blueprint of how they should play in those moments. So while the collapse was bad, very bad actually, there's value in how the Celtics responded. Remember, the end of the game play was all people cared about in the CLE loss, and this was basically the exact opposite. It's good for the Celts long term to be faced with these types of situations, and you don't have to take my word for it, just listen to Joe

He's right. Since the CLE/DEN losses, the Celts have basically had nothing but blowouts. While those are fun, we know the Celts can blow teams out. I don't think there's any harm in seeing them have a variety of situations over this final month of the season, and I'm someone who will always believe it's #actuallygood to be tested, because guess what? The Celtics will be tested in a playoff series.

- Another game with under 10 TOs and at least 25 AST and another game that resulted in a W. Call me crazy, but those things seem related. 

The Bad

- Given he missed 5 games, I'm willing to overlook how KP played last night as he continues to find his legs. Make no mistake, his 6-16 (0-5) and starter worst -8 was pretty terrible, and defensively he had his own issues once Dame started targeting him. 

I'd say there are two ways to look at the Porzingis showing. The first is this is basically what the playoff fear looks like. Ice cold from three, ice cold from the midrange, and not really getting the same whistle as we saw earlier in the year. Remember, we still don't really know what KP will look like in these high pressure playoff situations as he doesn't have the largest sample to choose from, especially since his development into the player we see today. That doesn't mean he's no show, it just means we haven't seen it yet.

The other way to look at it is even on a brutal shooting night he still found a way to have one of the biggest moments of the game

and the team was able to survive a combined 3-12 (0-4) second half showing from KP/Tatum. That tells you that even in a potential playoff game where they might struggle, the team is built in a way to be able to sustain it. 

Make no mistake though, for the Celtics to win the title or even beat this MIL team in a series, they need KP to play much better. 

- As a big proponent of telling the truth, I think it's important to speak about this matchup honestly, even if you don't like what the results show you. For example, at no point this season in any of the 3 games would I say the Celtics defense has been good enough. In fact, it's been awful.

In the 3 games this year, the Celts have put up a 125 DRTG and have a -8.7 net rating. That is objectively terrible. Now, I know there's a part of you that may think that 2nd game is what is doing most of the heavy lifting here, and so did I. So I looked into it and I'm sorry to report that things look just as bad if you just look at Games 1 & 3. When you do that you see the Celtics have a 118.7 DRTG. To put that into perspective, the Pacers have the 30th ranked defense this year with a rating of 113.7.

When it comes to limiting Damian Lillard, this is also something we've seen the Celts struggle with, even in games where Jrue plays. In the 3 games, Dame is putting up 26.7 a night on 49/42% splits. In the 4th quarter alone, he's averaging 11.0 points on 66/71% splits. You could make the case that the Celts have had just as many issues slowing down the Bucks offense as MIL has at stopping the Celts.

The point is, we all know the Bucks' defense stinks, and the Celts are going to be able to put up 120 with ease. But if we're talking about a potential playoff series, nothing we've seen from the Celtics so far in any matchup has told us they have figured out a way to slow down the Bucks offense. That is how you find yourself in trouble in a playoff series, and as we know if you don't defend, you die.

I bring this up because we talk so much about the Bucks' poor defense and I think if we do that, we also have to mention that the Celtics defense has been complete dogshit in this matchup too. 

- I'm starting to think maybe Rudy Gobert had a point. I'm still wondering how Scott Foster lets a play like this go, when we could all hear the slap from our couches

I mean, that's a foul. To then also give Tatum a tech for telling Foster that was a foul is what made it even worse. I just found it interesting that this game was a blowout and suddenly the whistle changes for one side. Next thing you know, the game is close. I'm sure it's all just a coincidence that it came in a Scott Foster game. Nothing to see here!

- It goes without saying everything minus the clutch time execution was pretty gross in that 4th quarter. I mean, see for yourself

Nearly the same amount of TOs as FGM, no real defense, and offensively it was pretty much everything you hate to see the Celts do. No real pace, playing the clock, no real ball movement, all things we saw plague them in the CLE collapse showed up again last night. Of course teams are going to make runs, but there's also something to be said about being complicit in that run. While I like that the Celts were able to have another clutch time opportunity, I also like the games where they don't puke on themselves and win by 15. You know when clutch play doesn't matter? If you simply maintain your big leads. 

For this to unfold the exact same way as the first meeting between these two teams is a tad concerning, and a reminder that against a team like MIL that has Dame and Giannis who can score quickly and in bunches, you CANNOT let your foot off the gas until the final whistle. We got that a little bit for the majority of the 4th and the results shouldn't be that surprising.

The Ugly

- Nope, not until they lose again, rules are rules!

With the DET/CHI/ATL/ATL/NO/CHA up next, there's a pretty good chance we see the Celts achieve the ever impressive 60 wins before 20 losses. They're currently on a 65 win pace and frankly, there are only a handful of games left on the schedule that should warrant the full roster playing. I think we've seen enough at this point. Focus on health, get the bench guys some reps and work on some shit you may need to unleash in a playoff series. That's really all that's left for them to do.