The Boston Celtics defeated the Milwaukee Bucks to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals. This win gives the Celtics their 37th conference finals appearance. Milwaukee’s loss means that the NBA will be crowning a new champion this season.
How the Boston Celtics Beat the Milwaukee Bucks
A Tale of Two Halfs
The first half of this game was tightly contested. Milwaukee started well, taking an eight-point lead into the break. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez led the Bucks in scoring out of the gate. As a team, Milwaukee would shoot 33% from beyond the arc. Unfortunately for Bucks fans, the first period was a poor foreshadowing of the night to come. The Celtics would win each of the following three quarters and the Bucks’ shooting woes from deep ended with a 12.1% conversion rate overall.
Boston bounced back in the second quarter, outscoring the Bucks by 11. Jayson Tatum and Grant Williams carried the load offensively for the Celtics. Williams is the unsung hero of this game seven victory. He had a huge impact in the starting lineup with Robert Williams unavailable for most of the series. Boston took a narrow three-point lead into the locker room at halftime.
Boston took complete control in the second half. Milwaukee was unable to get anything going offensively and Jaylen Brown began to heat up alongside Tatum and Williams. Jrue Holiday and Bobby Portis helped Antetokounmpo keep the Bucks in the game, but they would need an epic turnaround to overcome the double-digit deficit in the fourth.
There would be no such luck for the Bucks. The wound got larger as Milwaukee’s awful 0-8 three-point shooting was matched with Boston’s 7-17. Payton Pritchard joined the party, knocking down some deep threes to help put this one away. Now that we’ve gone over what happened, let’s discuss why this game and series belong to the Celtics.
Stating the Obvious
Here are a few quick, albeit important factors to acknowledge. Homecourt advantage played a role in this one, at least when it comes to game seven. Earlier in the series, we saw each team make big runs on the road in the fourth. Winning on the road seemed to be no issue, but when the lights got the brightest, the Celtics were spurred on by the hot shooting of two role players. The common thinking is that young and reserve players tend to play better in front of their home fans.
Whatever it was that gave the Celtics’ their shooting stroke, they did not share it with Milwaukee. It goes without saying, but 4-33 from deep won’t win you many games in the NBA. The Bucks just didn’t have it tonight on offense and despite Antetokounmpo’s efforts, they fell well short of the mark this year.
Missing Khris Middleton
It is safe to say that those around the league that have undervalued Khris Middleton’s role in Milwaukee are wrong. The Bucks desperately needed Middleton’s ability to create his shot. On top of that, the All-Star’s abilities and approach create open looks for his teammates. Milwaukee never needed this more than they did in game seven.
Conversely, look at the Celtics’ game seven efforts. Although Williams’ unexpected 27 was huge, Tatum and Brown shot over 50% from the floor and Marcus Smart had 11 points and 10 assists. Boston is just too good on the perimeter for the Bucks to keep pace without their main man.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has received some backlash for his rotation choices throughout the playoffs. Whether you agree with his strategy or not, it was clear in game seven that the Bucks’ bench was a weak point. The three key contributors only scored 12 combined points in their 63 minutes of action. Bobby Portis was solid, but George Hill was nonexistent, and Pat Connaughton couldn’t buy a bucket.
Boston had to thrust a role player into their starting lineup this series and were rewarded with a great series ending on a major scoring outburst. The Celtic’s rotation isn’t as deep as their upcoming opponent’s, but they did get the job done in this series.
A Superstar’s Ascension
Perhaps the biggest reason for the outcome of this series has been the amazing play of Tatum. His outstanding 46-point outing in game six carried Boston into this game seven. Tatum led the team in scoring for four of the seven games in round two. With this win, he continues his climb into the ranks of NBA superstardom. He adds this series to his impressive performance against Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets in the first round. Brown has been great for Boston as well, but this team will go as Tatum goes. At this rate, that could be all the way to an NBA championship.
The Celtics square off against the top-seeded Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami has one of the deepest backcourts in the league and Jimmy Butler will pose another incredible challenge for Tatum. The series begins with game one in Miami on Tuesday, May 17th at 8:30 pm est.
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