The Boston Celtics feasted on the Milwaukee Bucks in their much-anticipated Thanksgiving Eve showdown.
It was a playoff-like atmosphere at TD Garden on Wednesday night as the C’s took on arguably their toughest competition in the Eastern Conference. Adding to the intrigue was Celtics guard Jrue Holiday facing his former team for the first time since they traded him in the blockbuster deal for Damian Lillard in September.
The Celtics got the Garden buzzing with a 10-0 run to open the game and stayed hot throughout the first half, leading by as many as 21 points. Milwaukee fought back and cut the deficit to three points late in the fourth quarter but it was too little, too late. Boston held on for the wire-to-wire victory, 119-116.
Jaylen Brown starred with a team-high 26 points in the victory. Jayson Tatum battled through an illness and finished with 23 points. Seven Celtics players scored in double figures.
Brook Lopez and Lillard led the Bucks with 28 and 27 points, respectively.
With the win, the C’s snapped Milwaukee’s five-game win streak and maintained the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings with a 12-3 record.
Next, the Celtics will visit the Orlando Magic on Friday for their third In-Season Tournament Game. Before we turn the page to that matchup, here are our takeaways from Wednesday’s triumph.
Bucks have no answer for C’s defensively
It didn’t take long for the Celtics’ stacked offense to expose the Bucks’ lackluster defense. Jaylen Brown set the tone with an emphatic dunk on the opening possession and scored eight of the C’s 10 points on their 10-0 run to open the game.
Milwaukee had no answer for Brown, Tatum, or any other Celtic for that matter. Boston erupted for 67 points in the first half while shooting 12-of-23 from 3-point range.
The Bucks battled in the fourth quarter, but they ultimately were unable to get stops when it mattered most. Boston got its way whenever it needed a bucket, and that was the difference.
C’s (mostly) keep Milwaukee’s stars in check
The Bucks bolstered their offense before the season by adding Lillard to the mix, but their star tandem of Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo was virtually non-existent throughout the first half.
Boston limited Lillard and Antetokounmpo to a combined 3-of-16 shooting in the first quarter, resulting in Milwaukee’s lowest scoring output in a single quarter (17 points) so far this season. The duo shot 7-of-24 from the floor through the first two frames.
Antetokounmpo, primarily guarded by former teammate Jrue Holiday, wasn’t much of a factor in the second half either. The Greek Freak finished 7-of-20 from the floor and missed all three of his 3-point attempts, finishing with 21 points.
Lillard didn’t make much of an impact until the fourth quarter, when he awoke from his slumber and fueled Milwaukee’s comeback bid with 11 points. He ended up with a solid stat line (27 points, 11-24 FG, five assists) but Boston’s stellar defense on him for the first three quarters — primarily by Derrick White — prevented him from taking control and propelling the Bucks to victory.
Second unit shines
It’s safe to say the Celtics’ bench has bounced back from its early-season slump.
That especially goes for Payton Pritchard, who followed up his 21-point performance in Charlotte with another impressive outing against Milwaukee. The 25-year-old guard brought great energy and notched 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in his 21 minutes.
Sam Hauser had a rare off night (1-for-9) vs. the Hornets but resumed his red-hot shooting in this one. He also tallied 10 points, hitting four of his five shots (2-3 3-PT) in 20 minutes.
Veteran big man Al Horford had an outstanding all-around game, notching 11 points (4-7 FG, 2-3 3-PT) while bringing down eight boards, dishing six assists, and adding a block.
Pritchard, Hauser, and Horford (25 points) outscored the Bucks’ top three of Antetekounmpo, Lillard and Khris Middleton (19 points) in the first half. Their contributions were the key to what turned out to be a narrow victory over their Eastern Conference rival.