By Jack Belanger ’21
It has not been an easy season for the Boston Celtics this year in terms of injuries, but the team nevertheless has found ways to win. Once starting forward Gordon Hayward went down with a season-ending injury on opening night, all-stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were able to lead a young team to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. The team took another big hit when it was announced that Irving would undergo a season-ending knee surgery on March 11.
Without Irving, Head Coach Brad Stevens was able to get the most out of young players, as Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum stepped up and led the team to a 9-6 record to end the season and set up a first round match-up against the Milwaukee Bucks led by Giannis Antetokounmpo. Without the Celtics’ top two players, plenty of experts picked the Bucks to win as they saw Antetokounmpo as the best player on either team.
Five games into the series, Antetokounmpo has played exceptionally well, averaging 25.4 points per game. Luckily, Boston has been able to match his performance with Brown breaking out and leading the Celtics in scoring, averaging 21.8 points per game. Brown’s stellar play has given the Celtics the push they needed and helped them take a 3-2 game lead over the Bucks after five in the best-of-seven series.
While the team still has an all-star in Horford on the court, it is the improved play of Brown, Tatum, and point guard Terry Rozier that has been the difference for the team in the series. In Game 1 the trio combined for 62 points, including 23 from Rozier who hit a three-pointer with half a second left. That shot would have won the game for Boston had Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton not hit a buzzer-beater shot to force overtime, where Boston would win 113-107.
In Game 2, Brown was in complete control as he scored 30 points, leading Boston in scoring. He made 12 shots from the field, including five three-pointers. Overall, the team had six players score over 10 points as the Celtics dominated the Bucks 120-104, taking a 2-0 series lead before games 3 and 4 took place in Milwaukee.
Game 3 was a disaster for the Celtics. Boston was slow from the start and the Bucks took advantage, leading 27-12 after one quarter. Boston would only shoot 40 percent from the field for the game and ultimately lost 116-92.
While Boston took a tough 104-102 loss in Game 4, allowing Milwaukee to tie the series to two games apiece, the ending of the game gave Celtics fans comfort that the team would not have another poor performance. Boston was down by as much as 20 points early in the third quarter, but the team was able to go on a run to tie the game and even take the lead with less than a minute left in the game. Ultimately the Bucks were able to win the game on a tip-in by Antetokounmpo. Boston’s resurgence in the second half was largely thanks to Tatum’s 18 points in the second half and Brown’s 34 points for the game, including 10 points in the final quarter.
In Game 5 back in Boston, the Celtics held control throughout the entire game. Brown played tough defense on Antetokounmpo, holding him to only 16 points. The Celtics were also energized by the return of point guard Marcus Smart who missed the first four games with a thumb injury.
Smart was able to seal the game for Boston, as the Bucks had closed the game to 84-79 with less than a minute to play. As Milwaukee ramped up the pressure, Boston lost control of the ball, but Smart was able to dive on the loose ball and make a great pass with two defenders on him to a wide open Horford under to hoop to put Boston up seven and seal the Game 5 win.
The two teams head to Milwaukee for Game 6, where Boston will have a chance to win the series where they will play tonight at 8 p.m. The Philadelphia 76ers will be the next opponent for the winner of this series. The 76ers beat the Miami Heat in five games to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.