Final Score: Milwaukee Bucks 105 – Boston Celtics 98
Milwaukee Bucks starting lineup: Gary Neal, O.J. Mayo, Caron Butler, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders
Boston Celtics starting lineup: Avery Bradley, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Vitor Faverani
After the Celtics led for almost the entire game, including by 22 in the third quarter, Milwaukee mounted a comeback and retook the lead with only 43.5 seconds remaining and held on for the 105-98 win.
The Celtics got off to a quick start in the first quarter; after an early 4-4 tie, Boston went on a 12-0 run triggered by several fast break scores, including a pair of putback dunks on the break by Vitor Faverani and Brandon Bass. Those baskets were among 7 fast break points scored by the Celtics in the first quarter who attacked the basket on their way to 29 first quarter points, while holding Milwaukee to just 16 points on 8-26 shooting (31%). The Celtics were led in the quarter by Jeff Green and Brandon Bass, who had 7 and 6 points, respectively, in the first quarter, as well as Vitor Faverani, who had 4 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots.
In the second quarter, the Celtics stretched their lead to 17 early on, pushing the score to 35-18 after Jeff Green converted an and-1 off the assist from Kelly Olynyk. The Bucks continued to work though, and found a better rhythm on offense, eventually cutting the lead to 41-34 on a layup from Gary Neal, who scored his first 10 points within a 2-minute span in the second quarter to help Milwaukee chip into the lead. The Celtics responded though, moving the ball well in the halfcourt and getting several fast break scores to stretch the lead once again. A Gerald Wallace 3-pointer gave the Celtics an 18 point lead at 61-43, their largest lead of the game at that point. The first half finished shortly thereafter at 63-47, with the Celtics converting field goals at a 63% clip, thanks largely to getting so many shots near the basket; of Boston’s 63 first half points, 42 of those came in the paint, both by attacking the basket in the halfcourt setup as well as getting out for fast break points.
Green and Bass continued to lead the Celtics with 11 and 10 points respectively, while Courtney Lee put in 9 and Avery Bradley and Gerald Wallace notched 8 apiece. Vitor Faverani also had 11 rebounds and 4 blocks to go along with his 6 points in the first half. Meanwhile, Milwaukee improved enough in the second quarter to bring their field goal percentage up to 40%, led by Gary Neal’s 13 points, as well as 8 from O.J. Mayo and 7 points and 3 assists from Nate Wolters, the rookie out of South Dakota State. Each time was active on the offensive boards as well, with both teams pulling in 11 rebounds apiece on the offensive end, although the Celtics held a 17-8 rebound advantage on the defensive end.
The Celtics stretched their lead to 22 early in the third quarter after a pair of free throws from Faverani made it 72-50. Milwaukee made a little push to get the lead down to 16, and the lead stayed around 16 to 18 points for most of the quarter as the two teams traded points, with the Celtics cooling off from their torrid scoring pace of the first half. It looked like the Celtics would take momentum into the final quarter after Courtney Lee stole an inbounds pass and converted a layup to make it 83-66 with 1:03 to go. However, John Henson made a layup to cut it back down to 15 points, and then Jeff Green’s shot got stuck between the rim and backboard, forcing a jump-ball at midcourt with 3 seconds to go. After a slight scramble for the ball after the jump, Khris Middleton hoisted a halfcourt shot, but was fouled by Kelly Olynyk, and converted all 3 free throws to cut the lead to 12 points at the end of the quarter, making Boston’s lead the smallest it had been since the middle of the second quarter.
The Bucks cut the lead down to 9 early in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics kept them at bay, keeping the lead in double digits. After Kelly Olynyk grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to make it 89-77, the Bucks got a sudden boost thanks to Nate Wolters, who hit a three-pointer to cut it to 9, and then hit a floater in the lane on the next possession to bring the Bucks within just 7 with 8:34 to go in the game. After Jeff Green converted 1 of 2 free throws, Wolters drove to the hoop and dropped the ball of to Zaza Pachulia for an easy layup, and Khris Middleton stole a lazy pass from Avery Bradley and took it in for the dunk, closing the gap to 4 points at 90-86.
With the Celtics holding a 93-88 lead, Zaza Pachulia made a pair of free throws, and then Caron Butler hit a contested three-pointer for only his second field goal of the evening to tie the game at 93 apiece with 3:54 remaining. Gerald Wallace came right back with a three-pointer of his own though, and the Celtics regained the lead. The Bucks had a chance to take their first lead of the game since 2-0 after a Caron Butler offensive rebound led to a wide-open three-pointer for Middleton with Milwaukee trailing 98-97 with 1:44 remaining. Middleton missed the shot though, and the score remained 98-97 in the Celtics’ favor until a loose-ball foul on Gerald Wallace led to a pair of made free throws for Pachulia that gave Milwaukee a 99-98 lead with 43.5 seconds remaining in the game.
Nate Wolters then stole the ball from Gerald Wallace and took it to the other end where he was fouled on his layup attempt and converted both free throws. Courtney Lee then had his layup blocked on the next possession, and Wolters found Pachulia for a layup after Boston did not foul, giving Milwaukee a 103-98 lead with 15 seconds to go. After a missed three-pointer from Courtney Lee, Pachulia made a pair of free throws to put the finishing touch on Milwaukee’s 105-98 win.
Milwaukee Bucks notes
After looking essentially dead in the water early in the third quarter, the Bucks pulled out an extremely gutsy win, for their first of the season. Milwaukee had no rhythm on offense for most of the first half, and consistently allowed Boston to push the ball up the court for easy baskets on both primary and secondary breaks. They also did a poor job of defending the paint, consistently allowing the Celtics to get good looks near the basket as well as allowing the Celtics to get a number of second-chance points thanks to offensive rebounding.
In the second half, Milwaukee did a much better job of keeping the Celtics out of the paint and keeping them from running. They forced Boston to operate in a slower halfcourt offense that severely limited the Celtics’ offensive effectiveness – after allowing 63 points in the first half, the Bucks held the Celtics to only 35 second half points, including just 15 in the fourth quarter. Their increased energy and dedication on defense denied the Celtics many of the easy looks they got in the first half and allowed the Bucks to chip away at the lead.
With Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight both injured, point guard duties were handled by Gary Neal and rookie Nate Wolters, both of whom played a significant role in the win. Neal led all Bucks’ starters with 14 points, with 13 of those coming in the first half, as he was one of the only Bucks players that was able to do anything on offense. After putting up 7 points and 3 assists in the first half, Wolters, added another 7 points and 3 assists in the second half, with all 7 of those points coming in the 4th quarter to help Milwaukee seal the win. For a rookie, Wolters showed great poise – he hit two baskets in a row to help bring Milwaukee close in the fourth quarter and then had a steal that led to a pair of made free throws, which was really the sequence that decided the game. If tonight is any indication, look for this 38th overall pick out of South Dakota State to find a spot in the NBA for a while to come.
The Bucks’ bench carried the scoring load tonight, scoring 66 of Milwaukee’s 105 points. They were led by Zaza Pachulia, who led the Bucks with 20 points and also grabbed 9 rebounds. 16 of those 20 points came in the second half, including a number of key baskets and free throws in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback. John Henson also had a very solid effort off the bench, scoring 14 points and pulling in 9 rebounds while playing very good defense. After just 8 minutes in the first half, Henson played most of the second half, and his presence down low was a key factor in Milwaukee’s victory. The other important factor off the bench was Khris Middleton, who scored 13 points on 5-8 shooting in 27 minutes. If he can provide solid minutes and a good scoring presence off the bench at the wing position this season, it will be a major help for the Bucks going forward.
Overall, this is a victory Milwaukee should feel very good about – they looked very out of sorts for most of the game before finally waking up and coming all the way back for the victory. Nevertheless, expect the Bucks to focus on many of the issues that plagued them in the first half so that they do not need such a dramatic comeback in the future.
Milwaukee player of the game: Zaza Pachulia
Boston Celtics notes:
This was a very tough game for the Celtics, and displayed both the potential for this team, and the significant flaws. The Celtics lack a true point guard without Rondo, and also lack a go-to scorer to spark their offense in slower, halfcourt sets. In the first half, Boston played exactly as they needed to with these factors in mind: they crashed the offensive boards, they moved the ball quickly, they got out on the fast break often, and played with a great deal of energy and hustle. However, when Milwaukee made adjustments and played smarter and with more energy, the Celtics could not respond. After 42 points in the paint in the first half, the Celtics managed only 8 in the second half. Why? They held the ball for longer periods of time, dribbled in the halfcourt, and lacked the speed and energy that propelled them earlier in the game.
It is of course understandable that the Celtics would slow down somewhat, because 63 points on 63% shooting is not sustainable for any team, let alone an offensively challenged team like the Celtics. But the Celtics didn’t just come back to earth, so to speak – they abandoned, forgot, or were unable to replicate many of the elements that helped them get such a large lead. Brad Stevens will surely attempt to get the team to focus on what they did well early on, and how they can replicate that in future games.
Brandon Bass was the best player on the floor tonight for Boston, leading the Celtics with 17 points and grabbing 9 rebounds as well. He displayed intensity, hustle, and aggressiveness that helped the Celtics gain their big lead, and still gave it his all later in the game. Vitor Faverani had 12 points on 4-6 shooting as well as 4 free throws, but what was more impressive was his 18 rebounds, including 6 offensive boards. Adding in 6 blocks on the game, Faverani was impressive presence down low for a rookie. He has good natural ability and seems to be learning quickly, so many Celtics fans will have high hopes for him going forward. If he can continue to provide such solid play down low, expect him to become a Celtic mainstay.
After 25 points in the Celtics’ first game, Jeff Green was limited to 13 points on 4-13 shooting. He likely won’t average 25 points a game this season, but expect him to put up better numbers than tonight in most games. He is the Celtics’ most talented scorer, and will need to have success if the Celtics are going to be competitive. Against wings Caron Butler and O.J. Mayo, Green and Gerald Wallace frequently posted up, either exploiting their size advantages for high-percentage shots, or passing out for open jump shots. This could be a solid source of creating offense for the Celtics this season, so keep an eye out for this trend to continue in future games.
The Celtics again struggled at the point guard position without Rajon Rondo. When the team was moving the ball quickly and creating fast break opportunities in the first half, it wasn’t much of an issue, but when the pace slowed, the lack of a facilitator was very apparent. Avery Bradley has done his best, but is better suited for the off-guard spot, and accounted for 4 of Boston’s 17 turnovers (another area for this team that has become a worrying trend that will need to be fixed). After getting some playing time in the opening game, Phil Pressey stayed on the bench for all of tonight’s game, despite being more suited to the point guard position than either Bradley or Jordan Crawford. He’s not ready to play 20+ minutes a game, but Pressey could provide ballhandling and passing relief for the Celtics in small doses this year, so it will be interesting to see whether he gets much playing time going forward.
Also staying on the bench all game was Kris Humphries, despite leading the Celtics with 9 rebounds against Toronto. This was undoubtedly related to the return of Jared Sullinger, who played only 10 minutes in his first game, but did put in 10 points and pull down 3 offensive rebounds. Look for his minutes to increase as the season goes on, because he is one of the team’s best rebounders, and provides valuable persistence and hustle on the boards, as well as a scoring option down low. The final player of note this evening was Courtney Lee, who played 26 solid minutes and scored 13 points. The Celtics need him to provide good minutes and make shots if they’re going to competitive, and his 9 first half points were a major factor in the Celtics early lead.
Celtics player of the game: Brandon Bass