The Boston Celtics were riding high after their first-round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets. After all, some believed they may have been the most formidable team they would face all postseason long. The Milwaukee Bucks came out in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and immediately showed Boston that was not the case.
The Bucks' physicality and intensity on both sides of the ball allowed them to keep the Celtics at arm's length for most of the contest. Just when it looked like Boston was on the verge of making a run, Milwaukee would get an easy look on offense or force a miss from the C's on the other hand to build their lead back up. Jaylen Brown summed up Boston's day pretty eloquently in the aftermath of the game:
"Give credit to Milwaukee. They did a good job and had a good plan but we missed a lot of open shots. They hit us in the mouth so we gotta be ready for the next one." Jaylen Brown, ESPN
The Celtics had no answer for the Bucks' stifling paint defense
One of the biggest storylines for the Celtics from their opening series was just how good they were on offense. The Nets weren't a solid defensive squad by any stretch of the imagination, and whenever Boston wanted to get open looks, they got them. Unfortunately, that was not the case in Game 1.
The Bucks loaded up the paint with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis and dared Boston to shoot threes all game long. This resulted in the C's taking 50 three-point shots while only making ten two-point attempts, the second-fewest in a playoff game in NBA history. Milwaukee's gamble paid off, as Boston shot 36 percent from behind the arc, which wasn't good enough considering they took 50 shots.
For most of the afternoon, the C's looked content to stand around the perimeter and hope a three would open up for them. Occasionally they drove, but the prospect of meeting Lopez or Giannis at the rim didn't seem too enticing for them. Celtics head coach Ime Udoka seemed to be able to identify some things he wanted to implement in Game 2 shortly after the team limped out to a 0-1 start to the series:
"We need multiple penetrations, multiple paint touches and they did a good job as far as that. I think Jaylen and Jayson didn't have their best night offensively, missing ones that they normally are going to make, so those things combined obviously increase those numbers." Ime Udoka, ESPN
It's worth noting that Brown and Jayson Tatum aren't going to play as poorly as they did in Game 1 throughout the rest of the series, but much of their struggles were due to the Bucks' defense. After clamping opposing teams for most of the second half of the season, the Celtics finally got a taste of their own medicine.
Giannis bullied the Celtics' defense in Game 1
Milwaukee was worried about how they would be able to replace the production lost from Khris Middleton, with the All-Star wing set to miss most of this series. Antetokounmpo quickly showed just how that would be done.
"The Greek Freak" didn't have a very efficient outing, but he controlled the Bucks' offense all game long. Giannis would dish the ball to the perimeter whenever the Celtics sent multiple defenders his way for an easy three-point shot. It wasn't surprising to see him finish the game with a triple-double.
Antetokounmpo also got a helping hand from Jrue Holiday, who poured in 25 points and got looks using his physicality to get into the paint most of the time. It didn't matter who was guarding Holiday, as he quickly found his way to the basket. Holiday's solid offensive showing was another example of how Boston didn't bring the goods in Game 1.
The Celtics didn't look ready to go in Game 1 against Milwaukee, which is concerning. But these things can happen, especially after they had nearly a whole week off after sweeping Brooklyn last Monday. Brown detailed the mindset the C's are going to need to have moving forward if they want to win this series:
"They're the defending champs and we gotta come out and play basketball. We have to be ready to go no matter what the injury is or whatever it is that we're dealing with. You gotta have everybody connected and mentally locked in and be ready to leave it all out on the floor."
Boston didn't have this mentality in Game 1. If they don't have it again in Game 2, they could very quickly find themselves in trouble.