The Milwaukee Bucks have drawn first blood in their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Boston Celtics. Despite the game taking place in Beantown, the defending champions were able to take home court away from the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference behind a stellar defensive performance en route to a 101-89 win.
A cagey first quarter saw both teams rely on huge runs to create some separation. Boston landed the first haymaker halfway through the frame, as the team scored eight consecutive points and got the crowd at TD Garden rocking.
As they’ve done so many times over the years, though, the Bucks were able to take that punch, compose themselves, and strike back emphatically. A dunk by Jaylen Brown in which he rose over Giannis Antetokounmpo saw the Celtics go up by seven, at which point Milwaukee ripped off a 10-0 run to quiet the crowd and find themselves with a 27-24 lead after 12 minutes.
Throughout the first half, the Buck defense made life tremendously difficult for Boston. The team’s top two offensive players, Brown and Jayson Tatum, combined for 15 points on 5-for-18 shooting prior to the break, while the Celtics shot 16-for-47 (34.8 percent) from the field heading into the locker room. That mixed with a stellar performance in the first half by Antetokounmpo (14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) and the team connecting on 10 of their 20 attempts from three gave Milwaukee a 56-46 lead at the half.
The third quarter followed a similar format: Boston would make some sort of run and turn the pressure up on Milwaukee, only for the Bucks to be able to keep themselves from getting caught in the storm and going on a run of their own. The Celtics kept getting within two possessions, but each time, they were unable to get that final push over the line to tie things up or take a lead.
Even when Antetokounmpo committed an uncharacteristic foolish foul with 3:37 remaining and had to leave the game, Boston could not capitalize. Antetokounmpo attempted to poke the ball away from Tatum 30 feet from the basket, but there was enough contact that he was called for his fourth foul of the game.
Tatum hit a pair of free throws to make it a six point game, but Milwaukee managed to win the rest of the quarter behind their stellar defense — the Celtics scored four points while Antetokounmpo watched — and find themselves up, 78-70, heading into the fourth despite their star watching from the bench.
And once Antetokounmpo came back in at the start of the fourth, the Bucks put their foot on the gas and pulled away. The team went on a 9-2 run at the beginning of the period, led by as many as 16 points, and saw Antetokounmpo go off the backboard to himself for a dunk that felt like a knockout blow. After a foul by Grayson Allen with 1:59 left and Milwaukee leading by double-digits, both teams decided to punt on the remainder of the contest and empty their benches.
Jrue Holiday was Milwaukee’s top scorer, going for 25 points with 10 rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Antetokounmpo had a triple-double with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists, while Bobby Portis scored 15 points and reeled in 11 rebounds. While Tatum led the Celtics with 21 points, six rebounds, six assists, and two steals, essentially everyone Boston played struggled to get going against the Bucks’ defense, as the team went 28-for-84 (33.7 percent) from the field.
Game 2 will take place in Boston on Tuesday night, and is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. ET on TNT.