The short-handed Boston Celtics issued a statement to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, turning a 19-point deficit into a fourth-quarter lead as large as 13 and letting the Eastern Conference know they are not to be taken lightly.
The Celtics outscored the Bucks 38-18 in the third quarter, Kemba Walker scored 13 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth and Marcus Smart did all he could to throw Giannis Antetokounmpo off his game in an inspired 116-105 victory.
Brad Stevens on Kemba Walker: “He’s a warrior.”— Tom Westerholm (@Tom_NBA) October 31, 2019
Kemba had too much sauce for Giannis 🔥 pic.twitter.com/frxBh9XcuO— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 31, 2019
“Certainly it was a big win for us,” Gordon Hayward told the Celtics broadcast after the game. “After getting knocked out by these guys last year, and then being down in the first half, coming back, the crowd was huge. It felt good.”
The Celtics were without starters Jaylen Brown (illness) and Enes Kanter (bruised right knee), but they still had enough firepower to outlast Milwaukee. Gordon Hayward is playing like his pre-injury self, fearlessly amassing 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Jayson Tatum is making a leap, adding 25 points and playing forcefully on both ends.
Smart found his shooting stroke, sinking five threes and scoring 19 points in addition to his usual defensive antics.
Giannis gave Smart the "catch me outside" lookpic.twitter.com/wNH9APGmhX— TLSM (@TLSportsMedia) October 31, 2019
Smart on being a Giannis pest: "Every time I’m boxing him out, he’s trying to throw me out the way. It lets me know he’s frustrated I’m getting to him."— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) October 31, 2019
As a team, the Celtics shot 17-for-41 from distance. Bucks All-Stars Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton combined for 48 points on 28 shots, but Boston’s defense held the supporting cast of Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe and Wesley Matthews to a combined 5-for-24 shooting from the field. It was an all-out effort that came with added motivation.
The Bucks ousted a wildly underperforming Celtics team in the second round of last year’s playoffs, a year after Boston eliminated Milwaukee in the first round of the postseason. The two teams may be bound for a third meeting this spring.
There is a different feel around these Celtics. You could not quite tell if all the talk of their improved chemistry was merely an attempt to sweep last year’s disaster under the rug, but Wednesday’s win was evidence that it may be real. Walker’s personality is the reverse of outgoing All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, and that may be a convenient narrative for what has changed in Boston’s locker room, but the Celtics seem comfortable riding it to a more entertaining end.
Is the chemistry different than last season? Jayson Tatum smiles. “That’s a good question.”— Jay King (@ByJayKing) October 31, 2019
Kemba Walker: “We’re tough. We’re not going to shy away when things go wrong.”— Jay King (@ByJayKing) October 31, 2019
It was not lost on anyone following this story that Irving’s Brooklyn Nets lost by double digits to a previously winless Indiana Pacers team without its two best players. The Nets fell to 1-3 as Boston improved to 3-1, submitting a victory as enjoyable as any all of last season. It is still early, but Brad Stevens may be coaching an overachieving bunch again.
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