Celtics show grit, depth in short-handed loss to Bucks: 5 takeaways

The Bucks closed the gap in the standings, but they didn't inspire confidence.

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Celtics guard Derrick White drives against Bucks guard Pat Connaughton. AP Photo

The Celtics narrowly lost to the Bucks 131-125 in overtime on Tuesday, allowing Milwaukee to draw within a half-game in the standings.

Here are the takeaways.

1. We’ll start where we should: with the absences. The Celtics were without Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Al Horford on Tuesday. Robert Williams played limited minutes. The Bucks were entirely healthy, with the exception of Bobby Portis. Tuesday’s game looked like it would be an unserious contest.

Except that it wasn’t unserious, because Malcolm Brogdon, Blake Griffin, Grant Williams, Mike Muscala, Sam Hauser and the increasingly emergent Derrick White took it very seriously. In the process, they nearly toppled a Bucks team that won 10 games in a row entering Tuesday’s game and exited with a very shaky overtime victory.


You can’t project these things into the postseason, of course. The Celtics aren’t going to blow out the Bucks with Tatum, Brown, Horford and Smart back in the lineup just because they came close to beating the Bucks in their absence. That’s not how the NBA works — a number of role players played very well, but those role players are all in the NBA, which means they are exceptional basketball players. Giannis Antetokounmpo is an exceptional player even for the NBA, and he and his team had trouble beating a bunch of exceptional basketball players. That’s not entirely unfair.

But Tuesday’s game did nothing to inspire fear in the Celtics, and it certainly did very little to suggest Bucks fans are correct when they say the addition of Khris Middleton will make a difference in the postseason if the two teams meet this year. The Celtics have several players they can throw at Giannis Antetokounmpo. They have a much deeper team — a much better supporting cast around their own exceptional NBA players in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Bucks needed 40 points from Jrue Holiday, 36 points (and 19 free throws) from Giannis Antetokounmpo, and five extra minutes to beat the Celtics.


The Bucks drew closer in the Eastern Conference standings. They did the thing they needed to do on Tuesday. They will likely play significantly better the next time the two teams meet, whether the Celtics’ stars are in or out of the lineup.

But they can’t feel particularly good about Tuesday’s performance. A win is a win … but some wins are kind of a loss too. An immoral win, as one Twitter user put it.

2. The Celtics came very close to actually winning, too. The Bucks took a three-point lead in the closing seconds of regulation, and the Celtics called timeout to advance the ball.

Then Hauser did this.

In overtime, the Celtics took two separate five-point leads, but they couldn’t quite run out the clock. The Bucks ran up the score slightly in the final seconds after Antetokounmpo was awarded a clear-path foul when the Celtics fouled intentionally, which largely ended the game.

Hauser finished with 15 points and hit 3-for-8 from 3-point range.

3. Both Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon were brilliant. White scored 27 points and dished out 12 assists — a highly productive performance on the heels of his Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. Brogdon, meanwhile, scored 26 points on 8-for-17 shooting and did most of his damage in the paint on a night when the Celtics really needed someone to collapse the defense. As a result, he also earned nine trips to the line and went 8-for-9.


The Celtics picked up both White and Brogdon to beef up their bench, and both players are overqualified for their role, which is an incredible luxury when the team’s main contributors are out. If the Celtics find themselves in a place where they can rest Tatum, Brown and others down the stretch of the regular season, they might pick up several wins anyway given the quality of their two best bench players.

4. Teams tend to be very disrespectful of Blake Griffin as a shooter, given that he has shown he can hit from 3-point range at a pretty high clip in several separate seasons now. The Bucks were no exception on Tuesday, even though this year, he has made 39.5 percent of his triples.

On a normal night, it makes a little more sense — guarding Tatum and Brown obviously takes precedence. If Griffin takes a 3-pointer, your defense has done a pretty solid job.

But with Tatum and Brown out, Griffin made the Bucks pay for leaving him open — scoring 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting and hitting 3-for-6 from behind the arc. By the end of the game, the Bucks grudgingly closed to try to contest his shots. As is always the case for the Celtics’ offense, having bigs who can force defenders to grudgingly come all the way out to the perimeter is a big deal.

5. Grant Williams pump-faked out of a shot he should have taken toward the end of the overtime period, which cost the Celtics an opportunity to attempt a game-tying 3-pointer (and led to Antetokounmpo’s game-clinching clear-path foul).


Still, this stat sums things up nicely.

Williams and the rest of the Celtics weren’t perfect, but they played well and looked good together in familiar circumstances. The same can’t necessarily be said about the team that won.

The Celtics face the Pistons in Boston on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. — their final game before the All-Star break.


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