Thursday, March 21, 2024

Celtics 122, Bucks 119: Jayson Tatum holds off Milwaukee's late rally to secure C's seventh straight victory

Behind Boston's balanced scoring attack, the Celtics held off the Milwaukee Bucks late, extending their win streak to seven games in their 122-119 victory Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Hoping to avenge a blowout loss in their last meeting, the Celtics protected the parquet and improved to 32-3 on their home court and 55-14 overall.

Jayson Tatum led the team in scoring with his 31 points, while Derrick White notched 23 points, eight assists and Payton Pritchard also added 19 points, six rebounds off the bench. Damian Lillard led all scorers with 32 points (11-of-21 from the field) as Giannis Antetokounmpo sat out with a hamstring injury

Stepping up big in Jrue Holiday's absence (shoulder) with his energy, shooting, and effort, Pritchard's strong performance (7-of-11 shooting) was one of the team’s biggest bright spots -- especially missing one of their top bench pieces in Sam Hauser (ankle).
"Some guys just have a certain mentality that they carry themselves with. Payton is someone you don't worry about, even in the lowest of times, he's a hard worker and his mindset is phenomenal, relentless–never give up, warrior-like mentality," said Jaylen Brown in his postgame presser following recording 21 points, eight rebounds in the win.
Boston's defense started out strong, holding Lillard to only four points in the first quarter. Shorthanded, Milwaukee knew they would need others to come up big, and Khris Middleton (22 points) answered the call with eight points in the opening frame. Boston's offense responded behind Tatum (10 points in the quarter) and White (11 points, four rebounds), to match the Bucks' production on offense. Despite strong efforts in the first, Boston was unable to gain much of a lead -- entering the second with only a five point advantage. 

Fortunately for the C's, they would get some instant offense from their bench, with Pritchard catching fire in the second quarter, netting 10 points alone -- playing a significant role in Boston's 20-8 scoring spurt. 

After putting their elite offense on full display, Kristaps Porzingis (17 points) capped the first half off with a highlight of his own, faking a hand-off to Jaylen Brown, the big man spun to the right off the dribble and drove to the basket to throw down an emphatic slam over Brook Lopez to get Garden faithful jumping. Behind Pritchard's offensive takeover and Tatum's 13 points in the second period, Boston held a convincing 69-56 lead at the break. 

Pritchard's effort got the attention from his teammates who praised his ability to jump start the team's offense in the second quarter with his energy. 
"Payton got a heart of a lion," said White in his postgame interview with NBC Sports Boston. "He don't back down from anybody. He just looks forward to matchups like this."
Bucks came out swinging in the third, making four straight 3-pointers -- including two each from Lillard and Malik Beasley (six points), who tried to trim the deficit. However, Jaylen Brown responded with a quick seven points within the first three minutes.

The Bucks would try to keep it close, but Al Horford began to catch fire from deep. Making two threes in the third period to put the Celtics ahead by 14 late. 

With Lillard (21 points) and Middleton (15 points) leading the Bucks' offense after three quarters, Milwaukee headed into the final frame with an 18-point deficit, but they weren't going away easily. 

Milwaukee continued to chip away, as Bobby Portis with a modest 10 points to start the final frame, scored 14 points (6-of-10 shooting) to fuel the Bucks'comeback as part of a 25-6 run. The Celtics' 1-of-6 start to the fourth didn't help, as Milwaukee quickly pounced on the opportunity and made it come down to the wire. 

With a slim 110-107 lead with 2:56 remaining, the Celtics' stars knew they would need to step up to close the game out. Porzingis added another big highlight, leaping into the rafters to grab an offensive rebound in traffic and finished a putback dunk to extend the lead to seven. Lillard and Portis would respond with some big baskets down the stretch to cut it down to two, but Tatum's eight points in the quarter, including six-straight made free throws in the final two minutes helped close out the Bucks. 

The victory certainly wasn't pretty, but the gritty, grind it out win over the Bucks showcased the Celtics' improvement of closing out games -- even if everything isn't going their way.
"We got guys that can make a difference. We just play with poise, take our time, and get some good shots. I thought tonight we got some good looks, we just couldn't get a stop," said Brown in his postgame comments. "We didn't panic, we didn't rush, we got some good offense."
Boston hopes to build off their momentum Friday night on the road against the Detroit Pistons (12-57) at 7:30 pm

Game Notes:

Boston was out-rebounded by the Bucks 41-37, but won the assist battle with 25 on 40 baskets to the visiting team's 20 dimes on 45 made shots. The Celtics only turned the ball over nine times compared to Milwaukee's 14. The C's also made 18 3-pointers on 40 attempts (45%) while the Bucks hit 17-of-35 (48.6%). 

Ian Carrano

Photo used courtesy of The Associated Press

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