Celtics 112, Bucks 90: Last word

MILWAUKEE | The Milwaukee Bucks dropped game one at home to the Boston Celtics 112-90.

Player of the game: Al Horford

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Horford isn’t the Celtics’ best player, but he may very well be their most important player in this series. He didn’t finish with staggering numbers (20 points, 11 rebounds) but he made his presence felt on the defensive end.

He was assigned the match-up that most NBA players dread | Giannis Antetokounmpo. Horford was up for the challenge. He completely took Giannis out of his game using his length and strength to frustrate the Greek Freak in the paint. All three of Horford’s blocks came against Giannis.

Offensively, he keeps the defense honest and can knock down jumpers off pick-and-pops with Kyrie Irving. He is a match-up nightmare and a savvy veteran that Giannis is going to need to figure out because Horford made him look human.

“He was the Al Horford we all know and love,” Celtics forward Gordon Hayward said. “Knocking down shots, being able to space the floor, also taking advantage of smaller guys in the post and around the rim. Defensively, he was all over the place. [He] really did a good job on Giannis. I thought our team for the most part did a good job on him.”

Play of the game: Brown stuffs one on Giannis

Giannis is usually the one dunking on the opposition, but Celtics forward Jaylen Brown got the best of him Sunday afternoon.

The good: Finish to the first half

The Bucks had one terrific stretch when they looked like, well, the Bucks. They finished the second quarter on a 25-12 run which began with a 15-0 run. The bench played a big role in the first-half picking up the starters.

The second-unit scored 15 of the team’s 33 points in the second frame behind the hot shooting of Nikola Mirotic (9 points, 3-3 3 FG). George Hill finished the first half with nine points (4-5 FG). Hill and Mirotic really kept the Bucks in the game. If it wasn’t for them, game one could’ve been even uglier than it was.

Now, Milwaukee needs to figure out how to play like that for a full 48 minutes | something they did all regular season long.

The not so good: The starters

Milwaukee’s bench, except for Hill and Mirotic, didn’t play well either, but you rely on your starters to show up and produce in the playoffs. They didn’t on Sunday.

The Bucks’ starting five combined for 15-50 (30%) from the field. Giannis had one of his worst games to date. He finished with a team-high 22 points but was just 7-21 from the field. He also struggled from the free throw line converting on only five of his 10 attempts.

“Whenever I got in the paint and I (spun) or tried to change direction, a second guy was right there,” Giannis 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.”

“Giannis, as great as he’s been this year, he hasn’t been perfect every night,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s hard on himself, so there’s probably some point where I’m just going to put my arms around him and tell him, ‘You’re going to be great.’ He’s been so good so many nights. Credit to Boston, they’re doing some things well, but I think Giannis will play better.”

Eric Bledsoe mirrored last year’s playoff performance. He finished with six points (1-5 FG) and four assists. Brook Lopez couldn’t find any success offensively, ending the game with three points (1-5 FG, 1-4 3PT).

Khris Middleton was the most consistent starter. He dropped 16 points (5-12 FG, 3-4 3PT), 10 rebounds, six assists and was a big contributor in Milwaukee’s run to end the second quarter.

Stat of the game: 22

Sunday’s 22-point loss to the Celtics was the team’s biggest loss this season. It was shocking to see, really. I picked the Bucks to win this series in seven games so I expected them to lose three to Boston, but I figured every game would be down to the wire.

“Well, they hit us in the mouth,” Hill said. “That was pretty surprising. But it’s the playoffs and you have to learn how to hit and get back up.”

If there is any good to take away from this loss is that whether a team loses by one point or 22 points, it’s still just one loss. The Celtics don’t get more wins for winning by 22 points.

What they said:

Budenholzer on the loss…

As a group, we’re going to have to be a lot better. Credit to Boston, individually and collectively, they played well today, and we didn’t. Between now and Tuesday, we’ll look at ways we can get better defensively and get better offensively. We look forward to being better Tuesday.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens on their play in the second half…

In game one that we played Milwaukee this year, we were up by 15 in the fourth and by 10 minutes in the fourth it was a two-point game. Any little let-up and they just take advantage of it. We were fortunate to be up two at halftime and I thought we came out of the gates well in the second half and played well from there on out, but this is a hard team to play against and that wasn’t their best game, and we’re going to half to be awfully good on Tuesday. And, we know that.

In case you missed it:

*Giannis knocked down a playoff-career-high-tying three three-pointers, scoring 22 points with eight rebounds. This was his 14th career playoff game scoring 20+ points, including his third this postseason.

*Middleton tallied just his second career playoff double-double, as he finished the afternoon with 16 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.

*Mirotic scored 13 points (5-9 FG, 3-4 3PT) with four rebounds, recording his 15th career playoff game scoring in double figures, and his second consecutive game.

*Irving tied his playoff-career-high of 11 assists and scored a game-high 26 points. This was Irving’s fifth playoff double-double of his career.

*Horford finished the afternoon with 20 points and 11 rebounds, marking his first 20-points/10-rebound game of the 2019 postseason.

*The Celtics also had Brown (19), Hayward )13) and Terry Rozier (11) score in double figures.

What’s next?

The Bucks (0-1) will look to even the series with the Celtics (1-0) in game two on Tuesday. Tip-off from Fiserv Forum is scheduled for 7:00pm.

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