With the tidy logic of a Greek tragedy, the night started great for the Celtics — but ended in a neatly symmetrical reversal, and a 106-102 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
But Giannis returned the favor with an elegant block on Brown. The play thwarted a late-game Brown layup that would have brought the Celtics to within 3 points. He also tiptoed behind the entire Celtic defense for an uncontested fast-break dunk that helped keep the game just out of reach for the Boston.
Indeed, the Celtics, playing against a team that’s relatively weak shooting from the outside, and likes to get to the rim, even won the first-quarter battle of the paint. Narrowly, to be sure: Boston 16, Bucks 14.
But, as with Brown’s early thievery from Giannis, that early Celtic success was about to run into a Greek reversal.
The “inside” story
Tolstoy — literary crossover alert — helps explain this game. He wrote that “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Clearly, Tolstoy wasn’t a Celtics fan. Because with this year’s edition, almost the opposite is the case.
Nearly every Celtic win seems to feature a new hero, or a new distinctive signature play. Marcus Smart draws double charges from James Harden. “There’s a steal by Scary Terry.” Brad Stevens yells at Al Horford to “take the shot” against Portland — and in she goes.
Celtic losses, by contrast, tend to look the same. And so it was against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the Bucks scored 106 points. The breakdown: 66 came in the paint, 15 from the free-throw line (largely following in-the-paint fouls), and 15 from three-point land. Only 10 Bucks points came on the kind of mid-range jump shots that every team would like almost every other team to shoot more of.
It wasn’t just Giannis (29 points, 11 rebounds) that pounded the Celtics inside. Khris Middleton (20 points, 8 rebounds) and Tyler Zeller (8 points and 8 rebounds in 16 minutes) got in on the action as well.
To be fair, on both ends of the floor, Boston struggled to make up for the absence of its #1, #2, #3, and #4 point guards. Aron Baynes (12 points, 4 rebounds) and former Buck Greg Monroe (9 points, 10 rebounds) put in credible efforts. But Boston still took a drubbing in the paint.
2. Tunover turnaround.
In the first quarter, thanks largely to Allen, the Celtics had zero turnovers. Repeat: zero. The Bucks committed five. For the rest of the game, the Celtics turned the ball over 17 times. The Bucks, 10.
(Allen put up few counting stats. But he looked like an upper-middle-class man’s Terry Rozier. In his 22 minutes, the Celtics were -7, just about the margin of the game. “It felt good,” he said post-game. It looked good too.)
Marcus Morris led the way with five miscues, and had his first off-shooting night since… well, it seemed like the last time he shot 4 for 13 was about three National Security Advisors ago. No intelligent observer is going to get on Morris for having one bad night. But his off night was a part of the story.
3. Live by the 3….
… and, well, you know the rest.
There’s gotta be a scapegoat somewhere for the Celtics’ cold shooting from 3-point land (7 of 23, 30 percent). The Bucks long, lean, fast roster of the future can take some of the credit, of course. Despite the turnovers and the “wet paint” signs all over, had the Celtics shot normally from three, this game would have gone to overtime.
But we place the blame on the imprudence of “HornyHindu,” one of the better writers on the Celtics Reddit page. Just hours before the game, he imprudently pointed out that the Celtics “are now over 38% in 3-PT shooting for the season, trailing only the Warriors.” Harry, Harry, Harry.
Good news on the medical front, at least. The Celtics reported no new injuries after the game. Other than Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin, and Daniel Theis, the Celtics have a full lineup, and didn’t lose anyone against the Bucks. Indeed, Rozier and Larkin may be back in uniform on Wednesday.
Jayson Tatum refuses to hit the sophomore wall. Or perhaps he already crashed through it. The team leader in minutes played put up 20 points on 13 shots to go with 3 steals, and 2 blocked shots.
Jaylen Brown sounds more and more like a leader. In a week when others in the NBA were moaning about their team’s tattered roster (cc: LeBron James), Brown (24 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) politely declined. “We should have won,” he said, post-game. “No excuses.”
Next up on the schedule: the Celtics travel to Toronto on Wednesday for a back-to-back with the Raptors. Boston trails Toronto by two games for the top spot in the NBA Eastern Conference. As Celtics fans like to say: “Shhhh.”