Third Quarter Dooms C’s in Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE – The play-by-play sheet says that Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee was lost during the last second of regulation. But the Celtics know it was lost during the third quarter.
The last thing most fans will remember about Tuesday’s 112-111 loss will be that Avery Bradley reached in and put the Khris Middleton on the free throw line with 0.6 seconds to go in a tied game. But without an epic fourth-quarter comeback, or without the brutal third quarter from Boston that preceded it, there’s never a discussion about the mistakes made by both teams during the final second.
Bradley and his coach know as much. Stevens called the final foul “instinctual,” as Bradley, who long ago made his reputation as a defensive stalwart, intended to make a play to prevent a winning basket.
As soon as Stevens finished talking to the media outside the visitor’s locker room, Bradley emerged to face the music. Players rarely go out of their way to talk to the press, but Bradley made it a point to take accountability for his gaffe.
“I think I was just a little too aggressive. The ref made a great call,” Bradley said. “Me personally, I don’t think it was that one play that determined the game. I was just trying to make a good defensive play, trying to be aggressive. Trying to make it hard on them. Unfortunately, a foul was called. I can’t control that. All I can control is my effort.”
So overtime never happened. Realistically, on most nights, you’re unlikely to win a game in which you get outscored 40-20 in any quarter. But the Celtics almost pulled it off.
Instead, they lost in dramatic fashion, the victim of a classic NBA game of runs. First it was the Celtics building an early 10-point lead during the first quarter. Then Milwaukee cobbled together a 14-4 run of its own to tie things up at 32-32. It was mostly even the rest of the half.
The Celtics were clinging to a 54-53 lead at halftime, and 34 of Milwaukee’s 53 points came from the painted area. The onslaught in the key continued during the third, as the Bucks continued to pound the ball down low during the second half. Twenty of their first 23 second-half points happened in the paint, and Greg Monroe, one of the last of the dying low-post breed, was a dominant force.
“They made big shots when they needed to,” Bradley said. “Monroe was unstoppable during the third quarter.”
To Bradley’s point, the Celtics appeared to have no answer for his array of post and power moves down low. Trapping Monroe eventually slowed him down, until he started picking those traps apart by passing out of the double-team. Meanwhile, the Celtics connected on just five of their 17 shots during the third while Milwaukee went 15-for-20 en route to its 40-point stanza.
Monroe hit five of his six post-up shots during the third, but when the Celtics countered by putting Amir Johnson on him, Monroe turned the ball over a few times and appeared stymied. After his 12-point third quarter left him with 27 points, Monroe would only connect on one more basket, a turnaround hook off the glass over Jae Crowder that gave the Bucks a 111-109 lead with one second on the clock.
“In the second half it became a problem,” Stevens said of Milwaukee’s big man. “Monroe was the difference in the game.”
Tuesday’s loss was very much a winnable game for Boston. That much was obvious. Kelly Olynyk noted that the Celtics couldn’t get stops when they needed them. Jae Crowder labeled Bradley’s mistake as a “team mistake,” and quickly pointed out that Bradley had recently won a game for the Celtics, referencing his game-winner at the horn in Cleveland.
Bradley was willing to take the heat for the loss, but there was plenty of accountability to go around the locker room in Milwaukee, something everyone acknowledged as they packed their bags for Boston.