By MyFM's Jake Archer - We knew the series with the Bucks was going to be tough. I always maintained that I thought the Celtics were the better team and would find a way to win, but it was pretty easy to tell that it'd be a battle throughout. That proved to be true and the theme of home teams winning every game stayed true as well. Milwaukee took Game 6 and forced the series back to Boston for a Game 7 that the Celtics pretty much dominated. Let's start with what happened on Thursday night in Wisconsin.
After coming up short in a pivotal Game 5, the Bucks had their backs against the wall. Luckily, the home court advantages really turned out to be a huge boost and the Bucks energy carried them all night. They were desperate, and their speed to the ball really showed that. They hadn't rebounded well for most of the series yet took the advantage on this night, 48-39. The push that Giannis Antetokounmpo gave was especially huge after he'd been held down in Game 5. Semi Ojeleye was still the man tasked with guarding "The Greek Freak" but Giannis wouldn't be denied. He was aggressive and let his athleticism and talent overwhelm the Celtics all night.
Giannis led the way for Milwaukee with 31 points (20 in the second half), 14 rebounds, four assists and one steal. Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon were the only other Bucks in double figures as interim head coach Joe Prunty relied heavily on the guys that had got him here. Sterling Brown, Jason Terry, Shabazz Muhammad and Brandon Jennings never saw any time on the floor. John Henson missed his fourth straight game with his back issue, but this time Thon Maker got the start over Tyler Zeller. On the other side, Boston played everyone. Jayson Tatum was the star with 22 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals. Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris all reached double digit points but no one played particulary well. They just didn't make the plays that the Bucks did.
After a first quarter in which Boston actually played well and led 24-22, the Celtics hit a lull. They've done this quite a lot this year as they start fast and then go quiet in the second. This time they let the Bucks best them 26-15 before the half to fall behind by nine. In the second half, they played a more even game but that wasn't enough to cut into the lead. Milwaukee still outscored them by two and ended up with a 97-86 victory. It was a game in which Boston had their chances and they could have ended the series right there on the road. Mistakes piled up though and the momentum never really could come their way. After getting to within two with about seven minutes left, they faltered and couldn't get over the hump.
The young Bucks had asserted themselves and stared elimination in the face in what was the biggest game of most of their careers. They did a fantastic job of forcing Boston to settle for jumpers and bad shots which made it a lot easier on them. They also just had their transistion game going as they attacked the rim with relative ease. Now both teams were on the brink with a winner-take-all Game 7 on the horizon.
So far this series had really been about will-power and which team would want it more. It was easy to tell that both were hungry and had the fight in them, but who would prove themselves in the end? Boston wasn't discouraged by the Game 6 loss and was excited to move forward and get a Game 7 at home. On Saturday night, they showed that excitement and came out firing.
In the first quarter, the C's were knocking shots down and even getting some luck on their side. At one point, Giannis even accidentally tipped the ball into the Boston basket himself. Tatum scored nine of his points in the opening quarter while the team came out with the first punch. The Celtics dominated with overwhelming runs and entered the second leading 30-17. Milwaukee threw the next big punch though, as they opened the next quarter with a run of their own to cut the deficit to two. Boston had to answer back, and they did as they scored nine straight to make it 41-30. The Celtics kept the lead and went into the half up eight. They hadn't played their best or shot the lights out, but they were hanging on.
In the second half, Milwaukee was falling apart. After cutting the lead to three in the third, they fell short and the Celtics pulled away. Things never really got close again from then on. Could some of it have to do with the fact that the Bucks had gotten into early foul trouble? Probably. They weren't able to be as aggressive while Boston was flying around for everything. They took the rebounding advantage back and just made the hustle plays. Most of the second half felt uneventful and eventually Boston would win Game 7 by an anticlimactic 112-96 score. I can't say I was hoping for a better game because I wanted the no-stress feeling, but I was a little disappointed in the Bucks.
Boston was led by Rozier and Horford, who both scored 26. Horford was phenomenal all series long and some would say was the key to Boston winning in the end. He gets a lot of flack around the area but that's mainly because he isn't flashy. Nonetheless, he's a very good player who I'd want on my team any day of the week. Rozier scored a career-playoff high after battling all series with Eric Bledsoe. "Scary Terry" got the last laugh after the two traded barbs for the last couple of weeks, but he made sure to say that there was a mutual respect between the two. Tatum and Morris were the only other Celtics to score in double figures. Greg Monroe was the lone Celtic not to see action and Jaylen Brown sat most of the game after exiting in the second quarter due to a hamstring injury.
Semi Ojeleye did another good job guarding Giannis on this night, as The Greek Freak scored only 22 on the night. He was forced to settle for jumpers and couldn't get going on the break (the team scored 0 in transistion). You've got to give him credit for how he played most of the series, but he seemed a bit delusional when he said the better team didn't win. Middleton ended up leading the Bucks with 32 points, another good showing, but it wasn't enough. Eric Bledsoe was the only other Buck to get into double digit points. The Bucks went with a deeper bench as Brandon Jennings and Sterling Brown were the only ones not to get any run. Henson missed another game, his fifth straight.
For the Bucks, they have only advanced out of Round 1 once since 1989, when they went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001 behind Ray Allen. As for Boston, this was their NBA-record 31st Game 7 and they've been 20-4 at home and 23-8 overall. It's tough for opposing teams to come into Boston and win at any time, but especially in big moments like this.
Now the Celtics will face the tall task of taking on the young and talented Philadelphia 76ers. Philly has been the hottest team since after the All Star break and seems to be realizing their potential after a long time "trusting the process." Now the Philadelphia fans are all excited and believe they are the team to beat in the East because they are so confident in their guys and they realize that the Celtics are hobbled and all of the other teams are flawed. I'm hoping Boston can knock them off and give them a taste of humble pie, but it'll be an extremely tough thing to do. Regardless, I'll say that the Celtics will take this series in seven games because they'll be more disciplined. Game 1 is tonight in Boston at 8 p.m. and they'll have to start off on the right foot and play great. There is no final word on whether they will have Jaylen Brown back. That will be huge, to say the least.