bucks vs. Celtics points, takeaway: Giannis helps defending champions win game one, steals home from Boston

The Milwaukee Bucks hit first in their Eastern Conference semi-final encounter against the Boston Celtics with a stunning 101-89 road win in Game One. The Bucks steal their playground away from Boston at TD Garden.

He led the Celtics early on, but the Bucks quickly took control and didn’t hold back. Milwaukee held out solid through a long run in the third when Giannis went off the bench with four fouls. Boston’s attack, henceforth, fought miserably in the opening game. The team finished 28 for 84 shots (33 percent) in a loss, including only 10 2 point field goals. He panicked when Marcus Smart left late in the second quarter with a shoulder injury, but is back in what was a very physical competition.

The defending champions entered the series against Boston as the underdog. With Chris Middleton expected to miss the entire series, the Bucks still have a long way to go, but they took a big first step on Sunday by stealing their home ground advantage. Match 2 is on Tuesday. Here are three points from Milwaukee’s win:

1. Can Boston score inside the arc?

The Milwaukee defense is designed to give up 3 seconds. The Bucks had 40.6 3s per game in the regular season, and the gap between them and second-placed Thunder (at a rate of 38.7 per game) was greater than the gap between the same Thunder team and seventh-placed Knicks (37). This is a cover-up maneuver of doctrinal projection. Dollars protect the basketball even if you sacrifice shots from behind the arc. We knew that was their game plan from the moment they announced their starting line-up. Instead of following the typical match-up model of downsizing, the Bucks went the other way and played big. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who played center for much of the season, started with a junior striker. Bobby Portes and Brooke Lopez occupied the front court.

The Milwaukee strategy worked perfectly. Boston made 18 3s, a number that wins practically any game. But by forcing them to take 50 of them, the Celtics didn’t score any easy points. In the whole game, they made 10 shots from only two points. This is the second-lowest number ever in a playoff, only trailing the 2017 Houston Rockets when they were eliminated by Kawhi Leonard without the Spurs in Game Six of the second round. The Celtics barely attempted mid-range shots, and it was no surprise that they lost both free-throw and rebound fights.

Celtics usually have a fairly balanced diet. They don’t rely excessively on reaching for the basket. But you can’t win basketball games at the playoff level without getting easy points. Defense is too good to be expected to rely solely on 3s. Milwaukee scored 21 more points in turning and 14 more in paint than Boston. These numbers don’t have to be equal, but you have to be closer to Boston to have a chance. Offensively, they played directly for Milwaukee in Game 1.

2. Giannis Point

On paper, this seemed like a bad match for Giannis Antetokounmpo. No team in the Eastern Conference has as many strong defenders to throw in a two-time MVP, and Robert Williams III and Al Horford have generally done a good job of containing it. The Celtics will take 9 out of 25 from Giannis under any circumstances. But the problem the Celtics will have to solve is that Antetokounmpo distorts defenses so much that even when his shots don’t fall, it has a massive impact on his team’s attack.

Giannis finished the match with 12 assists, his second most playoff career. It was a fairly obvious pattern for most of the game. Boston’s defense will crumble to paint when Giannis is under attack, building the legendary wall that many teams have successfully fought off. Antetokounmpo shrugged, taking the ball as far as he could, pulling every potential defender, then kicking the ball back into the perimeter. Bucks points followed. At one point, he was so generous that he moved on to himself.

Antetokounmpo is, in a sense, the opposite of Stephen Curry. The Golden State point guard tortures defenses by pulling them away from the basketball, creating easy attempts for his teammates as a result. The attraction of Antetokounmpo is felt around the basket. He attracts so many defenders towards him that his teammates feast on the open jump. Defenses spent years trying to unsuccessfully solve Curry’s problem. This is where we are with Giannis. He had evolved to the point that he was a bystander to the point where there was no longer an effective way to defend him.

3. Winning on the sidelines

Let’s take a quick look at the Milwaukee players:

  • Wes Matthews played 29 minutes. It was available in December as a free agent.
  • Grayson Allen also played 29 minutes. He was earned in the off-season for two second-round picks.
  • Jevon Carter played 22 minutes. Milwaukee won those minutes by 25 points. He was ceded by Brooklyn mid-season.

Getting the stars is the hardest part of managing an NBA team. Jon Hurst rocked the biggest deal in Bucks history when he arrived at Jrue Holiday, and negotiated the biggest contract in team history when he re-signed Antetokounmpo in the 2020 season. But if winning the championship was just about collecting stars, the Lakers and Nets likely still played now. What separates good and great CEOs is the ability to create value on the sidelines.

If you’ve been wondering why Miami is so good almost every year, here’s why. If you’ve been wondering why Toronto is so good almost every year, here’s why. They tend to follow the more traditional path of youth development, but the principle is the same. Dollars generate value where other teams don’t see it. That’s how they survived without Middleton, and that’s how they lead this streak.

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