BOSTON – He is the other J. The All-Star, but not the MVP candidate. The scorer but not the scorer. When high-profile commercial talk emerged (Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard) it was Jaylen Brown, not Jayson Tatum, who got involved.
Brown is still a Celtic – the second longest-lived Celtic, in fact – and, boy, was Boston happy to have him on Tuesday. Game 2, the Celtics season up for grabs, their best defender, Marcus Smart, on the bench and Brown was out, accumulating 25 points in the first half (30 in total), delivering six assists and collecting five rebounds. He made 11 of his 18 shots, six of his 10 three and kept Celtics killer Jrue Holiday at 19 points out of 7 of 20 in Boston’s 109-86 win.
“JB was locked up,” said Tatum. “He set the tone and it was important to us.”
There’s no sugar covering it: Boston was punk in Game 1. Four games against the Nets finesse have softened the Celtics, who withered against Milwaukee’s physicality. For two days Boston got fed up, suffering from movie sessions showing Milwaukee’s front line showing the Celtics in the paint, Holiday sticking to Tatum and Brown, and a Bucks defense designed to coerce the disputed three pushing Boston to shoot 50 of them.
“We were older, [more physical team] all year, “Ime Udoka said.” I didn’t like the way we didn’t react to the fact that they were physical. We adapted well, we learned a few things from game 1 … we weren’t outdone in that way all year round. I think our guys took that to heart. I knew we were going out with the right effort for tonight. “
Brown said: “The way you answer is everything in this league. We knew we had to go out and play as if our season was at stake.”
They never did. After being punched in the mouth in Game 1, Boston came out swinging. It was 18–3 in the middle of the first quarter. He was 65-40 in the middle. The Celtics still shot many threes (43) but made 46.5%, with Grant Williams connecting to six off the bench. They took the medium shot when it was offered. “We welcome those shots,” Udoka said. They attacked the paint. Udoka said Boston showed too much respect for Milwaukee’s circle guards in Game 1. “We felt like we let them off the hook,” Udoka said. After making just 10 two-pointers on Sunday, the Celtics connected with 18 in Game 2. “There’s no Wilt Chamberlain out there,” Udoka said. “We can go down and attack.”
In defense, the Celtics were brilliant. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the only Bucks player to score more than 20 points and needed 27 shots to get his 28. Antetokounmpo, who racked up a triple double in Game 1, was held down at 2 for 12 in the first half . The combination of Williams and Al Horford forced Giannis to make difficult and contested turning jumps and long three-point shots.
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“You squat and trust the work you’ve done,” Williams said. “And do your best to contain one of the best players in the world.”
Even when the Bucks left, Boston responded. It was a decided Antetokounmpo to come out of the locker room to start the third quarter. He made eight of his 11 shots in the third. But while Milwaukee chipped in the lead, Boston refused to let them write it off. Tatum got going. He scored 29 points, 19 in the last two quarters. He made 10 of his 20 shots, five of his 10 threes and dealt eight assists.
“We were pissed at how we played the last game,” said Tatum. “We knew we had to play better, that simple.”
Boston won, saved a split from their first two games, but this looks like anyone’s streak. Smart’s health looms. Although a source familiar with Marcus Smart’s right quadruple bruise said YES The injury was causing Smart to ache in his right knee, Udoka expressed optimism that the defender of the year 2022 could play in Game 3 on Saturday. And Boston will need him. Antetokounmpo, after two consecutive poor shooting performances, will likely play better when the series moves to Milwaukee. And the Bucks defense, split in the first half, kept Boston on 18 points in the third quarter and just 44 in the second half.
The Celtics took a critical win.
The Bucks return to Milwaukee with the advantage on the home court.
The battle between two Eastern Conference heavyweights has just begun.
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