Celtics Even Bucks Series with Game 2 Counterpunch

BOSTON – After absorbing Milwaukee’s first blow in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Boston Celtics responded Tuesday night by delivering a series-evening counterpunch at TD Garden.

Still ticked off by their 101-89 loss from two nights prior, the C’s came out swinging in Game 2. They landed a flurry of jabs right out of the gate, as they got off to an 18-3 lead, which set the tone for a 109-86, wire-to-wire win.

“We didn’t love the way we came out last game, just in general, on both ends of the floor. It felt like we could obviously play much better,” Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said of the sour taste Game 1 left in his team’s mouth. “We wanted to match their physicality and punch back first. I talked about getting caught off guard a little bit and getting punched in the mouth last game. The big message was to show them who we are and who we’ve been all year, responding to losses in a certain way, and we did that.”

Jaylen Brown responded in a certain way, bouncing back from a 12-point effort Sunday afternoon with a game-high 30-point effort Tuesday night.

It took Brown less than nine minutes to surpass his previous-game total, as he dropped in 17 points during the first quarter alone. He finished the first half with 25 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field, including a perfect 5-for-5 from 3-point range.

“Just being aggressive, playing basketball, not over-complicating, just taking what the defense gives me, just being aggressive every time I touch it, and that’s it,” Brown said of his bounce-back performance. “My teammates set some great screens and found me in some great spots to where I could be successful, and some shots went down tonight.”

It was more than “some” shots. The Celtics knocked down a franchise playoff-record 20 3-pointers on 43 attempts. They outscored Milwaukee 60-9 from beyond the arc, led by six 3-pointers apiece from Brown and Grant Williams (career-high 21 points), along with another five makes from Jayson Tatum (29 points).

The key to such 3-point prowess was ball movement. Boston dished out 28 assists on 38 field-goal makes, as they focused on passing up good shots for great shots.

“They’re a great team, a great defensive team,” said Tatum, “so the first drive and kick or the first pass may not be open, but just trying to get the best possible shot each possession.”

What made the effort even more remarkable was that Boston was missing its primary playmaker and top defender in Marcus Smart. The Defensive Player of the Year was ruled out a few hours before tip-off with a quad contusion, which he suffered while taking multiple blows in Game 1.

Even without their toughest player, the C’s were able to out-tough a physical Bucks team.

“I think the mindset and our identity is, especially when somebody is out, next man up,” said Tatum. “You’ve gotta be ready to fill in. The ship gotta keep going. So everybody gotta do a little bit more. Everybody gotta fight. And that’s what we did tonight.”

The C’s also did exactly what they have done throughout the year by getting up after being knocked down. Only once since mid-January had they suffered back-to-back losses, and they weren’t about to let that change in the playoffs, especially not on their home court.

“That was our first true test in the playoffs,” Brown concluded. “How you respond, I know a lot of us were a little bit curious as to how we would come back in this position because we hadn’t lost; that was our first loss in the playoffs so far. So getting accustomed to losing is something that we don’t want to do, but in a good way, how you respond is everything. What you’re made of comes to light in those moments, so you got to see what the Celtics were about tonight.”

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