ASSOCIATED PRESS — Each time Giannis Antetokounmpo touched the ball, he was swarmed by various Boston Celtics’ defenders. Whether it was Jayson Tatum or Al Horford, Antetokounmpo experienced a difficult time in Game 1 and so did the rest of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is optimistic his star will bounce back and he will find out if Antetokounmpo recovers from a rough series opener Tuesday night when the Bucks host the Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“As great as he’s been, he hasn’t been perfect every night,” Budenholzer said. “He’s hard on himself, so there will probably be some point where I put my arms around him and tell him, ‘You’re going to be great.'”
The series will shift to Boston for Game 3 on Friday night and Milwaukee hopes to avoid joining the 2018 Toronto Raptors as the only top seed to fall behind 2-0 in this round under the current 16-team format that began in 1984.
On Sunday, the Celtics opened the series by cruising to a 112-90 victory, mostly because of how they defended Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo scored 22 points but shot 7 of 21 and did not hit his first basket until the second quarter and Milwaukee was dominated in the second half after trailing by two at halftime.
“Whenever I got in the paint and I (spun) or tried to change direction, a second guy was right there,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’ve just got to go watch tape. If they’re going to play like this the whole series, I’ve got to be able to make the right pass and trust my teammates to knock down shots.”
Milwaukee shot 34.8 percent and had 11 shots blocked. Antetokounmpo shot 4 of 15 in the paint and was 2 of 10 when guarded by Horford or Aron Baynes.
It was Milwaukee’s lowest shooting percentage in a postseason game since Game 6 of the 2015 first round against the Chicago Bulls.
“Well, they hit us in the mouth,” Milwaukee point guard George Hill said. “That was pretty surprising. But it’s the playoffs and you have to learn how to hit and get back up.”
Besides counting on Antetokounmpo recovering from one of his worst games of the year, the Bucks are hoping others can help them recover from the third-worst loss by a No. 1 seed in a series opener under the league’s current format.
Boston is unbeaten in the postseason and is attempting to start a postseason with six straight wins for the first time since 1985-86. The Celtics are allowing 91.4 points per game in their first five playoff games and getting enough offense by scoring 101.8 points per game.
Besides the stifling defense, the Celtics also shot 54 percent. It was their highest field goal percentage in a conference semifinal game since Game 5 in 2010 at Cleveland.
“I think we definitely played like a team tonight,” Boston forward Gordon Hayward said. “I’ve talked about it all year, but we have so many different guys that can step up and make plays and make shots. Seemed like guys tonight made timely buckets all over the place. We’re trying to draw together and come together here and accomplish one goal. This is a good start to that.”
Kyrie Irving opened the series with 26 points and 11 assists while Horford added 20 and 11, respectively. Afterward, it was Horford’s defense on Antetokounmpo that had the Celtics buzzing.
Horford was on the floor at the same time as Antetokounmpo for 22 minutes. During those minutes, Antetokounmpo made 2 of 11 shots, had two shots blocked by Horford as the Bucks posted a 63.3 offensive rating in those minutes.
“Our focus was to make sure that we just made it tough on him every time, just making sure he earned everything he got,” Horford said. “I felt like we did a pretty good job of that.”
If the Celtics can defend as effectively as they did in Game 1, they will get a 2-0 lead in this round for the third straight season.