Celtics Execute Recipe for Success To Take 1-0 Series Lead

BOSTON – The Celtics concocted a recipe for success heading into their first-round series with Milwaukee. During Game 1, no ingredient went missing, and no direction went unfollowed as they downed the Bucks 113-107 in overtime.

Their recipe was elaborate. It was challenging. It called for the following:

  • Only a pinch of turnovers
  • A gradual churn of action from start to finish
  • A heavy blend of points from multiple sources
  • Concentrate on the main components, but don’t forget about the other ingredients

The first aspect of the recipe set the table for Boston’s overall execution.

Milwaukee’s length and athleticism is unstoppable in the open court. The C’s learned that the hard way during the regular season. They knew they needed to thwart it.

Milwaukee averaged 11 steals per game during two wins over Boston this season, all while it scored 19 points per game off of Boston’s turnovers. The Celtics couldn’t play that sloppily and win.

With a brief stretch during the second quarter notwithstanding, Boston avoided such sloppiness during Game 1. The team committed only 12 turnovers in the game outside of a 73-second stretch of the second period, when Milwaukee scored six straight points off of three Boston turnovers.

Taking care of the ball allowed the Celtics to contain the pace of the game. Without doing so, the Bucks would have been running rampant.

Milwaukee wanted to dominate the speed of the game. It wanted to impose its athleticism and length upon Boston and play in transition.

“Just a fast pace,” Khris Middleton said of how Milwaukee wanted its offense to operate. He added, “We don’t want to get into a slow grind. That’s not our game and it hasn’t (been) all season long.”

And it wasn’t Sunday afternoon, either.

Thanks to Boston’s decision making and its effort to sprint back on defense, the C’s limited Milwaukee to only 83 shot attempts. That total would be shockingly low for a regulation game, let alone for a game that went to overtime.

Only three teams in the NBA this season – Milwaukee included – averaged 83 or fewer shot attempts per game. The Celtics limited the Bucks to 83 Sunday afternoon even while an additional five minutes were added to the clock.

That sure is a gradual churn.

The recipe had gotten off to a great start, but it wouldn’t have mattered had the Celtics not received their heavy blend of points from an assortment of sources.

Without Kyrie Irving, a one-man offensive show, Boston must score as a collective unit. That’s exactly what it did during Game 1.

Five different Celtics scored at least 19 points, with four eclipsing the 20-point barrier. Al Horford led the way with his exceedingly efficient 24-point game on only eight field goal attempts. Terry Rozier scored 23, Marcus Morris scored 21, Jaylen Brown scored 20, and Jayson Tatum scored 19.

Milwaukee should be thankful that it was even competitive with the C’s amid their balanced scoring attack. The only factors that kept Milwaukee in the game were the outstanding performances of its two main components, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Middleton.

The star duo combined to score 66 of Milwaukee’s 107 points, all while shooting 56.1 percent from the field, 62.5 percent from 3-point range and while hitting 15 of 18 free throw attempts. This was all despite the C’s giving them plenty of attention, and, in Brad Stevens’ eyes, actually defending them at a high level.

Stevens said after the game that his team did “an incredible job on Giannis” and made it “as tough as possible” for him to score. The Celtics similarly defended Middleton, who simply had the hot hand and also managed to overcome strong defense.

Boston could live with great players being great, so long as it challenged those players. What was more critical to the recipe was that the C’s also needed to pay attention to the rest of the ingredients in running around in black jerseys.

Eric Bledsoe, Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell are all players who are capable of swinging a game with their talents. Boston, however, kept them under wraps as a group.

That foursome combined to score only 29 points – fewer than both Antetokounmpo (35 points) and Middleton (31 points) scored individually. Bledsoe, Parker, Brogdon and Snell combined to shoot a paltry mark of only 35.3 percent (12-for-34) from the floor.

When it became clear that the “other guys” on Milwaukee’s squad were not going to make a collective impact, this game was Boston’s for the taking. The final ingredient of Boston’s recipe to success had been mixed into Game 1.

With that, finality was almost certain. Milwaukee would not steal a win at TD Garden.

The Celtics knew what needed to be done to take Game 1. They did it Sunday afternoon, and now they’ll try to do it again Tuesday night as they shoot for a 2-0 series lead.