Defense found: Bucks overwhelm Celtics for 116-92 win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 23 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19 and the Milwaukee Bucks used a dominating first half to overwhelm the Boston Celtics 116-92 on Friday night, narrowing their deficit in the first-round playoff series to 2-1.

Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker each added 17 for the energized Bucks, who held the Celtics without a field goal for nearly an 11-minute stretch of the first half.

Milwaukee found its defense after a disheartening 14-point loss in Game 2, getting contributions from up and down the roster.

Backup center Thon Maker scored 14 points and had five of the Bucks’ 12 blocks. Pesky guard Matthew Dellavedova, a veteran of a championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, helped hold young Celtics point guard Terry Rozier to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“The activity, if you take the stat sheet out of it, the activity and the energy that we brought … as you go through the game, that’s what you need, is the energy first,” coach Joe Prunty said.

Al Horford scored 16 for the Celtics, who fell behind by 23 at halftime and got no closer than 76-62 with 3:06 left in the third quarter on Jayson Tatum‘s 3-pointer.

The game was so well in hand that the Bucks closed out the victory even with Antetokounmpo on the bench for much of the fourth quarter with five fouls. Middleton had eight points in the fourth.

Game 4 is Sunday in Milwaukee. The Celtics will need to get off to a much better start if they want to avoid going home for Game 5 with a 2-2 series tie.

“We got into a hole. This is new for our group,” Horford said. “They had it going … and we really didn’t have an answer for them tonight.”

Milwaukee hustled for loose balls and stayed active around the paint, used its length to get deflections and disrupt Boston in the lane.

The 7-foot-1 Maker, in particular, provided a huge boost to help Milwaukee counter what had been a decisive edge off the bench for the Celtics. Maker got extended minutes only because starting center John Henson missed the game with a sore back.

Nearly everything else went Milwaukee’s way, too.

Parker, who voiced displeasure this week after playing just 24 minutes over the first two games, was 7 of 12 from the field and played 30 minutes. Bledsoe, outplayed by Rozier in the first two games, shot 8 of 13.

“Good win, lots of positives tonight. Quick turnaround … so we’ll have to do it again on Sunday,” Prunty said.

 

Celtics survive wild finish, hold off Bucks 113-107 in OT

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BOSTON (AP) Boston coach Brad Stevens loves the postseason because it offers a chance to “bust narratives.”

The Celtics took their first step toward shattering the belief they can’t win without their biggest stars.

Al Horford had 24 points and 12 rebounds and Boston overcame Khris Middleton‘s long 3 that beat the fourth-quarter buzzer, topping the Milwaukee Bucks 113-107 in overtime Sunday to open the playoffs.

The Celtics led 99-96 with 0.5 seconds left in regulation when Middleton took an inbounds pass on the far right wing and hit a contested 35-footer. Boston outscored Milwaukee 14-8 in the extra period.

Terry Rozier added 23 points, four rebounds and three assists for Boston in his first career playoff start. Jaylen Brown finished with 20 points. Rookie Jayson Tatum added 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Rozier said he knows he’s under a spotlight this postseason with Kyrie Irving out for the season following his recent knee surgery.

“I just know I gotta step up,” he said. “I know I gotta fill big shoes. I don’t feel no pressure. I’m glad to be in this position.”

Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in Boston.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 35 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists before fouling out in overtime. Middleton had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Malcolm Brogdon scored all 16 of his points after halftime.

After a muted start, things opened for Antetokounmpo. But he said he must do a better job the defensive end against Horford going forward.

“He knows what he’s doing down there,” Antetokounmpo said. “Hopefully in Game 2 I won’t play on my heels and I’ll play more on my toes and be able to defend without fouling.”

Part of the reason the Bucks were in bad spots is because they were hampered by turnovers. They committed 20, leading to 27 Boston points.

“That’s not getting shot up,” Middleton said. “We feel like if we get a shot up, we’ll be good.”

An acrobatic, spinning layup by Tatum gave Boston a 108-105 lead in overtime.

It was 108-106 when Horford snared a rebound and got it ahead to Rozier, who was fouled. He made two free throws to put the Celtics in front 110-106 with 18.8 remaining.

Antetokounmpo made one of two foul shots with 14.8 seconds left, but he fouled out of the game while going for the rebound on his miss.

Rozier added three free throws to provide the final margin.

The game went to extra time following a wild finish in regulation that included back-to-back 3-pointers in the closing seconds.

Milwaukee was held to just two field goals over the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter as the Celtics built an 86-76 advantage.

The Bucks closed to 89-87 before Marcus Morris made a falling down jumper just inside the arc to make it 91-87.

It was 92-91 with less than a minute to play when a pair of free throws by Horford made it 94-91.

Antetokounmpo got free for a dunk. But Horford was steady again after being fouled, connecting on two more from the line with 15.2 seconds left.

Out of a timeout, Brogdon got free on the wing and drained a 3 with 10.3 to play to tie it at 96.

Rozier dribbled the clock down before crossing over Eric Bledsoe, stepping back and swishing an apparent game-winner with a half-second showing the clock.

But after a Milwaukee timeout advanced the ball to half court, Middleton matched it with his own 3 over Brown as time expired.

“Both teams are going to keep fighting,” Bucks coach Joe Prunty said. “That’s what this series is going to be. Each little play is going to matter.”

TIP-INS

Bucks: Antetokounmpo has now scored at least 20 points in eight consecutive games against the Celtics. … Outscored the Celtics 58-44 in the paint.

Celtics: Improved to 23-20 in postseason overtime games. Except for Horford, who entered the Sunday’s game with 91 career playoff starts, Boston’s other four starters (Tatum, Aron Baynes, Brown, Rozier) had combined to play only one playoff game between them. That lone start belonged to Baynes.

QUOTABLE

“That was part of our plan, to kind of lull them into a false sense of security.” – Stevens, joking on Boston’s play during Bucks’ 26-4 run in the second quarter to take a 10-point lead

BIG PLAY

Tatum brought the crowd to its feet early in the first quarter when he took an outlet pass from Horford and went in for fast-break dunk over the outstretched arm of Antetokounmpo .

MAKING PROGRESS

Marcus Smart, who hasn’t played since March 11 and continues to work his way back from his March 16 surgery to repair a torn ligament, was also on the court getting up some shots before the game. He was recently cleared for non-contact shooting but hasn’t resumed full basketball activities.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

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PBT Extra Preview: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Boston Celtics

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Teams in the East were jockeying to get on Boston’s side of the playoff bracket because the Celtics are so banged up — no Kyrie Irving, no Gordon Hayward, no Marcus Smart, no Daniel Theis. The Milwaukee Bucks finished with the seven seed and got the chance to take on what’s left of the Celtics in the first round.

But can the Bucks beat them?

Milwaukee will have the best player in the series by a mile in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they have strong players around him such as Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton. However, the Bucks are undisciplined and make mental mistakes all the time. On the other side, Boston still has Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown — and they will be disciplined. The Celtics will defend well and not make mistakes.

That combination makes this an interesting clash.

PBT Awards: All-Defense

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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Kurt Helin

First team

Second team

Outside of the center spot, this was challenging to fill out because there were tough factors to balance. OKC’s Andre Roberson was by far the best defensive guard in the league, but injuries limited him to just 39 games — is that enough? (I ultimately decided no.) Also at forward there were a lot of deserving guys, but Tucker has been crucial to the improved, switching defense in Houston and he deserves to make the cut (even over Jimmy Butler). A lot of tough calls in a deep year for this award.

Dan Feldman

First team

  • G: Victor Oladipo, Pacers
  • G: Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
  • F: Robert Covington, 76ers
  • F: Al Horford, Celtics
  • C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Second team

  • G: Jrue Holiday, Pelicans
  • G: Andre Roberson, Thunder
  • F: Anthony Davis, Pelicans
  • F: Draymond Green, Warriors
  • C: Joel Embiid, 76ers

I was looking for the players with the biggest defensive impacts for the season. But so many of the NBA’s top defenders on a per-possession basis missed significant time due to injury and/or having a limited role: Andre Roberson (who could’ve been Defensive Player of the Year if he stayed healthy), Dejounte Murray, Jimmy Butler, Thabo Sefolosha, Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid and Aron Baynes. It was tough to compare them to not-quite-as-good defenders who affected more possessions: Jrue Holiday, Victor Oladipo, Paul George, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, Al-Farouq Aminu, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Clint Capela.

Dane Carbaugh

First team

  • G: Dejounte Murray, Spurs
  • G: Victor Oladipo, Pacers
  • F: Jayson Tatum, Celtics
  • F: Draymond Green, Warriors
  • C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Second team

  • G: Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
  • G: Andre Roberson, Thunder
  • F: Paul George, Thunder
  • F: Al-Farouq Aminu, Trail Blazers
  • C: Joel Embiid, 76ers

The great part about this season is the defensive rise of a lot of young players coupled with the immediate, clear impact that has had on their team’s success. Dejounte Murray has looked like a real replacement for Tony Parker and a further evolution of that position for the Spurs. Jayson Tatum has been incredible, and as we said at the beginning of the year the only way for the Celtics to succeed was for their youngsters to step up. Joel Embiid has (mostly) stayed healthy and been a monster. Butler slots into a guard spot as he’s played 80% of his minutes there, per Basketball-Reference.com.

PBT Awards: Rookie of the Year

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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Kurt Helin

1. Donovan Mitchell, Jazz

2. Ben Simmons, 76ers

3. Jayson Tatum, Celtics

I flip flopped on the top two the last couple months of the season, and even the last couple of days. Both are deserving, but you can’t split your vote. What decided it for me? Not that ridiculous “Ben Simmons isn’t a true rookie” crap, which is both silly and a moot line of logic. No, it was the load Mitchell had to take on for the Jazz to even get that team into the playoffs. Simmons was more efficient, is a better passer and rebounder, I like Simmons’ switchability more on defense,  but he had Joel Embiid and other guys who could make plays (Redick, McConnell) around him. As usage rate shows (Mitchell was 7 percent higher), a lot more was asked of Mitchell, particularly in the clutch, and he responded better than we have seen from a rookie in a long time.

Dan Feldman

1. Ben Simmons, 76ers

2. Donovan Mitchell, Jazz

3. Jayson Tatum, Celtics

The 76ers’ offense ran through Ben Simmons because he was uniquely capable. The Jazz’s offense ran through Donovan Mitchell because it had to. That difference is why this is even a debate. Simmons made greater contributions this season, but playing with more capable offensive teammates – including Joel Embiid, an All-Star – helped. Facing a greater nightly burden, Mitchell acquitted himself extremely well. Ultimately, Simmons’ all-around game – especially defensively – gives him the edge. A key ding for Mitchell: He was an inefficient chucker early before settling in. The whole season counts.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Ben Simmons, 76ers

2. Donovan Mitchell, Jazz

3. Zach Collins, Trail Blazers

Ben Simmons is the runaway winner and it hasn’t been close ever since Joel Embiid went down with an orbital fracture. The one thing Donovan Mitchell had going for him was a clear-cut value to his team. That got stripped away when Simmons switched to another gear with Embiid out. By advanced analytics, Simmons is a much better offensive player, passer, and rebounder. Oh, and he’s a better VORP and net rating guy than Mitchell by a long shot. I’m adding Zach Collins in here because third place in this race doesn’t matter and he’s been an absolute surprise for Portland this year.