The Celtics bounced back from their embarrassing display against the Washington Wizards to trounce the league leading Milwaukee Bucks in a 140-99 statement win at Fiserv Forum Thursday night.
Jayson Tatum finished with 40 points on 12-of-18 from the field, including 8-of-10 from deep, while Jaylen Brown had 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting and five assists through three quarters.
Malcolm Brogdon (five assists) and Al Horford (4-of-6 from 3-point range) each added 14 points respectively to help the C's improve to 53-24 on the season and sit two games behind the Bucks (55-22) for the No. 1 seed in the East.
"It does matter," Brown said in his postgame presser about the possibility of grabbing the top spot. "We want to finish out the season strong and see what happens."
Boston won the season series 2-1 and now own the tie-breaker in case both teams finish with identical records after the final five games left to play. The Celtics beat Milwaukee in seven games during the semifinals last year in the playoffs.
In this season's first meeting on Christmas Day, the Celtics cruised to a 139-118 victory over the Bucks, before Milwaukee got their revenge on Valentine's Day in a 131-125 overtime win at home -- where Tatum, Brown, Marcus Smart or Horford didn't suit up in the loss.
"We know what the deal is," said Giannis Antetokounmpo during his postgame comments after leading the Bucks with 24 points. "If you're not focused and you don't play hard, they are going to kick our ass. Simple as that. There is no level of concern. It's a fact. If we play the same way, we'll have the same outcome. We've got to have some pride."
Antetokounmpo went 11-of-27 from the floor and 0-of-5 from behind the arc, including an air ball. Khris Middleton added 13 points, five assists before leaving in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the mouth from Jaylen Brown -- to which he received several stitches in his upper lip and did not return. Bobby Portis recorded 12 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for the Bucks, who were playing on a second night of a back-to-back after a 149-136 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
The Celtics used a 24-9 run in the opening quarter (scoring 13 straight) to take a 34-26 advantage after one, before holding Milwaukee to just 21 points in the second to push their lead to 75-47 at the break -- as Tatum and Brown had a combined 42 points.
Boston went on another 33-17 run in the third to put the Bucks away with 2:46 left in the quarter, as the score was 114-74 heading into the final frame -- where both teams cleared their benches and the C's led by as many as 49.
"This don't really mean much," Brown said of the dominating win. "If we play them again, we've got to be ready to take their best shot."
The Celtics head back home to TD Garden Friday night to host the Utah Jazz (36-40), as they look to avenge a 118-117 loss from earlier in the month.
Boston hit 56% from the field, including 22-of-43 (51.2%) from 3-point territory, while the Bucks were 37.6% from the floor and 14-of-43 (37.6%) from long-distance. The Celtics out-rebounded the home team 47-45 and outscored them in the paint 54-36. The C's dished out 28 assists (nine turnovers) on 51 baskets to the Milwaukee's 22 dimes (13 turnovers) on 38 made shots.
Photo used courtesy of USA Today
Photo used courtesy of USA Today