The Boston Celtics got embarrassed on their home court in Game 1. They made sure that didn't happen again in Game 2. Jaylen Brown puts up a game-high 30 points as the Celtics bounced back with a dominant 109-86 win over the Bucks Tuesday night to even the second-round series at one game apiece. Game 3 is Saturday in Milwaukee.
Boston was hot from the start, outscoring Milwaukee 65-40 in the first half. Boston's scoring came largely from behind the arc as the Celtics made 20 of their 43 3-point attempts in the victory. The Celtics' defense made life difficult for the defending champions, who were held to under 90 points.
The Bucks went into Boston on Sunday and handed the Celtics a stunning 101-89 defeat in their series opener. In the process, the defending champions stole home court away from the East's No. 2 seed. Boston rebounded with a win at TD Garden, and they did so without the services of Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, who sat out with a right thigh contusion. Here are three takeaways from Game 2.
1. The Boston 3 Party
The Celtics attempted 50 3-pointers in Game 1, but it wasn't by choice. Milwaukee's defense -- already geared around protecting the paint and sacrificing 3s -- took things to another level in the opener by starting Bobby Portis alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. The idea was to put so much size on the floor that the Celtics would be baited into shooting nothing but jumpers. They fell for it, and in the process made only 10 2s in the entire game.
Most assumed that Boston would try to find ways to take fewer 3s in Game 2, but it didn't. Instead the Celtics decided that this time, they'd simply make all of their 3-pointers. The Celtics scored 65 points in the first half and started the game 11 of 17 from behind the arc. Grant Williams (6), Jaylen Brown (6) and Jayson Tatum (5) all made more 3s in the game than the Bucks did as a team (3). Boston outscored Milwaukee by 51 points from deep, but what's more, that hot shooting helped the Celtics find easier points in the first half. Milwaukee grew so afraid of Boston's shooting that its defense finally started to close out on open Celtics. Boston retaliated with an incredible half of ball movement to create easy looks that took advantage of Milwaukee's scattered defense.
The problem for Boston was that it didn't sustain this high-energy offense for four quarters. The Celtics scored just 44 second-half points because their offense got lazy. It devolved too frequently into a ball-handler driving into traffic, frantically passing it out, the energy dying and a Celtic taking a contested 3. The first half was proof that Milwaukee has an easier time defending stationary Celtics than moving ones. If Boston can capture what it did in the first half moving forward, it can win this series quickly. If it plays the low-energy offense it did in the second? Milwaukee can take control of this series at home.
2. The Williams wall
There are not enough superlatives for the defensive performance Grant Williams gave in Game 2. There are dozens of plays that deserve to be highlighted, but I want to key in on this one, specifically. No need for setup, let's just take a look:
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the nearly 7-foot freight train who has won two regular-season MVPs and is the reigning Finals MVP, ran into Williams at full speed … and collapsed. Grant Williams is an absolute brick wall. If Giannis can't exert his physicality against Boston's young forward, nobody is going to be able to. The best part? He isn't even the best defensive Williams on the Celtics. Robert Williams III might have won the Defensive Player of the Year award that ultimately went to Marcus Smart had he not gotten hurt late in the season.
Grant is 23. Robert is 24. They share the frontcourt with Al Horford for now, but if Boston can afford to keep both, it is going to have one of the best and most versatile pair of defensive big men in all of basketball for the foreseeable future, and they both happen to have the same last name. Robert has drawn most of the praise all season for his highlight blocks, but it was Grant's strength that proved so pivotal in Game 2.
3. Playing two different sports
In two games thus far in this series, the Celtics have attempted 41 more 3-pointers than the Bucks. Again, some of that is by design. Milwaukee's defense is designed to allow 3s. But its offense is designed to take them as well. Milwaukee ranked fifth in the NBA by taking 38.4 3s per game in the regular season. Boston took fewer at 37.1 per game. Yet in Game 2, the Celtics took 43 3s and the Bucks took just 18.
Those 18 3-point attempts are by far the fewest of the Mike Budenholzer era in Milwaukee. Under his coaching, the Bucks had never taken fewer than 22 in a game before Game 2. But Boston changed up its game plan defensively in a way that took away the 3s Milwaukee lives off of on offense. Rather than doubling Antetokounmpo and allowing him to rack up double-digit assists as he did in Game 1, Boston trusted Grant Williams and Al Horford to take him one-on-one. They were largely successful. Giannis shot 11 of 27 from the field.
Without having to devote extra resources to him, the Celtics were able to stay at home on shooters, and with Khris Middleton out, the Bucks lacked the shot creation to find their preferred looks in other ways. Now it's up to the Bucks to figure out how they can get their shots off against Boston just as Boston adjusted to them in Game 2.