As much as no lead is safe in the NBA, it really looked like the Bucks were in position to coast past the Celtics on Thursday. Going into Milwaukee without Jaylen Brown (right thumb sprain) was a problem, but certainly not one that directly led to the Bucks scoring 76 points in the first half.
Milwaukee’s transition offense was a problem. They scored 28 fastbreak points in the first half, the most the Celtics have let up in a game — not just a half — this season.
Now, part of that is a result of Boston’s poor shooting in the first half. Having Giannis Antetokounmpo certainly helps Milwaukee, too. But that was also a matter of the Celtics’ effort.
And if the Celtics want to chalk up their tough first-half shooting to “shots didn’t fall,” that’s fine, but they have to find ways to compensate for that flaw so opponents don’t go into halftime with an 18-point lead.
A few changes in the first half and all of Boston feels much different by the time the final buzzer sounded on Thursday.
“This team is resilient,” Smart said. “Coming off a back-to-back night, we knew that it was going to be tough, but we didn’t want any excuses. So, just continue to fight and fight until we got to where we wanted and gave ourselves a chance at the end.”
Hayward has to keep shooting, but he hasn’t been there when the Celtics have needed him in these big games.
In addition to the effort looking a lot better in the second half, Boston got some solid contributions from Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye on the defensive end.
And as much as Ojeleye has gotten better with his shooting, the Celtics bench scoring is almost non-existent when Smart starts. Outside of Enes Kanter (nine points), no Celtics reserve was a threat to score in the slightest on Thursday.
But Boston could’ve mitigated that flaw if they simply started the game on the right foot.
“Games like this happen when you play against a really good team — a really great team,” Kemba Walker told reporters. “We just had to be ready. All these losses we’re going through are just lessons for us. It’s a very long season, still. We got so many games to play and when we have losses like this, we just have to learn and build from them. And I feel we will.”