BOSTON — As you scratch your head while asking how the Celtics lost this one, and at the same time how the Bucks won it, here are five takeaways from Milwaukee’s 110-107 victory in Game 5.
1. Jrue Holiday made like wax and applied the finish
For the first 45 or so minutes, Holiday was a mixed bag. He did some good things, did some bad things, sometimes on the same possession. And then in the moment of truth, the only seconds that mattered, he was all clutch. He blocked Marcus Smart, then threw the ball off him to save possession with a one-point lead. Oh, and a few moments before, Holiday drilled a crucial 3-pointer to tie the game with 42.4 seconds. Oh, and then he victimized Smart again by stripping him in the final seconds to preserve the three-point win.
🔥 Game-tying three
🔥 Game-saving block & save
🔥 Game-sealing steal
— NBA (@NBA) May 12, 2022
It should not be lost that Holiday did this against the freshly-minted Kia Defensive Player of the Year. This game was a copy of what Holiday was like in last year’s Finals, when he shot poorly at times, made some errors… then ripped the ball from Devin Booker and lobbed to Giannis Antetokounmpo for a timely bucket in the final seconds of Game 5, the signature play of the series. Holiday produced 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists Wednesday but what he did went beyond the numbers, because mere stats can’t capture the context or his timing. It should be clear by now that Holiday is more than a player; he’s a playmaker. There’s a difference.
2. Giannis hits a big 3, but his missed free throw helps Milwaukee just as much
Come again? Well, the first one is self-explanatory. The Bucks were down six points with 1:40 left when Giannis drilled a 3 from the top of the key, mainly because the Celtics, perhaps by instinct, left him open from there.
OK, here comes the part where missing the second of two free throws with 14.2 seconds left while trailing by one was actually good for Milwaukee. Giannis is shooting 60% from the line this series, and when he was fouled, all of Milwaukee held its collective breath. He made the first, and then, just as his percentage hinted, missed the second. Bobby Portis obviously knew that percentage because he expected a rebound. And so: Boston didn’t box him out, and Portis tipped the ball in, and the sequence became a three-point Bucks’ swing — and the lead, for good — instead of a tie game if, say, Brook Lopez, an 87% shooter, was at the line instead.
The box score won’t say it, but Giannis’ miss was one of the worst things to happen to the Celtics.
3. Bobby, Bobby, Bobby (say it 12 more times)
With 15 rebounds, Portis was a problem on the glass all night. His biggest contribution came at the offensive end, where Portis had eight boards while the Celtics had five as a team. Of course, the biggest was his aforementioned putback, made possible when the Celtics tripped over themselves trying to secure the rebound.
Portis has had a weird series. For some reason, Mike Budenholzer played him just 15 minutes in Milwaukee’s Game 4 loss. Anyway, Bud came to his senses and let Portis loose for 28 minutes Wednesday as he won the hearts of Bucks fans for his hustle, emotion and energy, all of which were fuel for this latest win. Offensive rebounding is a lost art in today’s game, sacrificed by the emphasis on spacing the floor. When players stand around the perimeter, few, if any, are in a position to crash the offensive glass once the shot goes up. For example, Lopez, a solid rebounder early in his career, now focuses less on the glass after gradually developing into a stretch 5.
Good thing for Milwaukee that Portis has kept his nose for rebounding. The Bucks don’t win this game without his sense of smell.
4. Celtics’ D on Giannis was sketchy
One reason Giannis was much more efficient (40 points, 16-for-27 FGs) was that Al Horford and Grant Williams struggled against the two-time MVP. Williams in particular had a rough night; in 31 minutes he was scoreless, but that wasn’t the issue. Williams struggled with four fouls and couldn’t match Giannis’ inside quickness. Horford didn’t make Giannis labor that much harder.
Giannis was careless at times with the ball (seven turnovers) but after missing three of his first four shots, he made 15 of his last 23. When Giannis rolls like that, Boston’s defense must gamble on double-teams more often, and that’s why Pat Connaughton and Wesley Matthews were left open to hit important shots as the Bucks made their fourth-quarter run.
5. Count the Celtics out at your own risk
So the series shifts back to Milwaukee Friday for Game 6 (7:30 ET, ESPN), and the Deer District will overflow and Fiserv Forum will shake in anticipation of the Bucks ending Boston’s season. But keep in mind that the Celtics played solidly in Milwaukee, losing by only two in Game 3 and winning Game 4. The Bucks also lost at home to the Bulls in the first round. Therefore, does Milwaukee really hold a significant advantage in this upcoming closeout game?
The Celtics might get Robert Williams III back after he missed the last two games with a sore knee. On the other hand, Khris Middleton — out since April 20 — has only progressed to light shooting, which means his status will likely remain unchanged. The Celtics will also be comforted to know that Jaylen Brown is coming off his best game of the series with 26 points as they led by as many as 14 in the fourth.
No one will be surprised if this series goes seven.
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