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Shorthanded Celtics Give Full-Strength Bucks a Battle

Taylor Snow
Team Reporter

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Despite missing three starters Thursday night in Milwaukee, the Boston Celtics took a full-strength, defending-champion Bucks squad down to the wire in what was one of their most resilient displays of the entire season.

Al Horford (low back soreness), Jayson Tatum (right patella tendinopathy), and Rob Williams (left knee meniscal tear) did not suit up, but into their places stepped several eager backups, each of whom contributed to a 121-point offensive outpour on the second night of a back-to-back.

Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart were the only two regular starters who saw the court, and they elevated their play as well; Brown logged his second triple-double of the season with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists, and Smart delivered a season-high 29 points while shooting 7-of-12 from 3-point range, despite falling, 127-121.

Players who typically come off the bench for Boston combined for 70 points. Two other players aside from Smart also logged season-highs in the scoring department, as Sam Hauser recorded 11 points and Daniel Theis dropped in 22. Meanwhile, Derrick White had his best scoring game as a Celtic with a 19-point effort in a starting role.

“What I told the guys was great effort overall, great experience for a lot of guys we’ll depend on going forward,” head coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “This was similar to [the overtime loss in Toronto last week] in the sense that we played extremely hard with a few guys out.”

Boston was leading the Bucks, 121-118, with 2:27 remaining, but could not score down the final stretch. Aside from that drought, Udoka believed that their main issues were allowing 22 points off of 15 turnovers and also giving up 15 offensive rebounds.

“Those are teaching points, great effort by a lot of guys in different positions, but we’d like to get a lot tighter down the stretch,” he said.

For players like Hauser, Theis, Payton Pritchard, and Luke Kornet, it was important to see big minutes against a title-contender and potential future playoff matchup.

“It has a ton of value for them,” Udoka said. “Tight, tough situations. We saw that in the Toronto game as well – tight ballgame. Experience going forth to the playoffs is what we’re looking for, where we have to execute. We had our opportunities. The offensive rebounds are what stand out. More than anything that was it, and the turnovers. But for those guys, it’s invaluable.”

The type of effort that the Celtics displayed, given their shorthanded status, also spoke volumes about how far this team has come in the second half of the season. Even though they were without so much of their usual offensive firepower, they still dished out 30 assists on 43 made field goals, while also connecting on 21 shots from long distance at a 42 percent clip.

“It just shows the progression that we’ve been making as a team,” said Smart. “Individually, you’ve got guys stepping up that I’m sure a lot of people one – probably didn’t know; two – never heard of; three – wasn’t expecting. So that right there alone just speaks for itself. We played a good team tonight – a really good team – and we didn’t have everybody, and we still gave them a run for their money and almost won it. So that right there speaks to the resilience that this team has individually and together.”