4 takeaways from Game 1 vs. Bucks

Celtics

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown struggled mightily in Game 1.

Celtics Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks as Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart and center Al Horford look on. AP Photo/Steven Senne

It’s always best to avoid overreacting to the first game of a series, so let’s try to keep things in perspective: The Celtics aren’t going to win a series against the Bucks if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown shoot a combined 10-for-31 from the floor every night, like they did in Sunday’s 101-89 loss.

The only problem: The Bucks had a lot to do with their struggles in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Both Tatum and Brown were harassed and harangued by aggressive Bucks defenders who seemingly lay in wait for the postseason all year — buoyed by the confidence of winning a title last season. The Bucks looked like a completely different team on Sunday than the one the Celtics faced during the regular season.

Still, we should reiterate that not all is lost just because the Celtics dropped their first loss of the postseason. The prescription is simple, even if acquiring the medicine isn’t: The Celtics need more from Tatum, who is the starting point for all of their best offense. They also need more from Brown, who relieves a lot of the pressure opposing teams put on Tatum. Until those two things happen, they will continue to struggle.

The bet the Bucks made in Game 1 was that if they bothered the Celtics’ stars with aggressive, physical defense, the entire Jenga tower would topple. It worked. If it continues to work, this might be a short series.

A fairly safe assumption, of course, is that the Celtics will make adjustments and free up their stars. They need to figure it out quickly, though — the Bucks also gambled that they wouldn’t need home-court advantage against the Celtics on the final day of the regular season, and they stole the advantage from the Celtics right away in Game 1.

More takeaways

2. Maybe the biggest issue for the Celtics offensively was their inability to generate anything in the paint, which had a lot to do with the Bucks’ defense. Milwaukee harassed Boston into turnovers, forced them to fruitlessly challenge Brook Lopez, and never let them get into their best offense. They bothered the Celtics with full-court defense, and Ime Udoka admitted after the game that the ball-handlers were “sped up.”

In fact, what the Bucks did to the Celtics was somewhat historic — the Celtics narrowly missed becoming just the fourth team in the shot-clock era to convert fewer than 10 two-pointers in a game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, did things like this.

The Celtics have a lot to figure out before Game 2.

3. Marcus Smart went running off the court in the first half after experiencing a shoulder stinger, and the Celtics added a quad injury to his list of ailments before he returned for the second half. Smart could be seen limping toward the locker room just before the final buzzer as well. Ime Udoka told reporters after the game that he expects Smart will be fine, but the Defensive Player of the Year didn’t look comfortable.

Robert Williams, meanwhile, took a hard kick to the groin from Antetokounmpo in the first half, but he too returned to the game and appeared to be okay.

4. The Celtics also need to do a much better job of covering the Bucks’ shooters. During the regular season, lineups with Antetokounmpo on the floor and Khris Middleton — who is sidelined for the series — on the bench were actually better than when the duo shared the court. Without Middleton, the Bucks simply surround Antetokounmpo with shooters and Brook Lopez, which simplifies the game significantly.

Going forward, the Celtics might have to simply trust Al Horford and Grant Williams to do a good enough job on Antetokounmpo to keep the defenders home on the Bucks shooters.

We will have more takeaways later this afternoon.

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