By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Celtics sent a message to the NBA on Wednesday night. These are not the Celtics of last year.
It’s difficult for any team to send a real message after just four games of an 82-game season, but the Celtics made it clear with their incredible 116-105 comeback win over the Milwaukee Bucks that they are a team that will not quit. They shook off yet another sluggish start, falling behind by 19 in the first half, for their best win in years. After looking like a G League team for much of the first half, the Celtics dropped 74 points on the Bucks over the final two quarters. They gave up a ridiculous 34 points in the first quarter, and then held the Bucks to just 47 points in the second half.
And better yet, it was actually fun to watch this team, because they were having fun themselves.
The game has Celtics fans feeling all sorts of feelings as we get set to head into November. Here’s all the good that came from Wednesday night’s epic victory.
This is the last time we’ll bring up last season, but the Celtics would not have won this game last year. That squad lacked the resilience we saw Wednesday night. But this team has that “never quit” attitude from the top on down, and it was on full display over the final 24 minutes.
“We’re tough. We’re tough. We’re not going to shy away when things go wrong,” said Kemba Walker, who finished with a game-high 32 points. “We’re going to win as a team, and we’re going to lose as a team. When things are going bad, what I’m going to try to do is keep us together. That’s the most important thing for this year. Tonight was a great example of that. We could have easily lost this game by a lot. But we kept on talking to each other, just keeping each other confident, and that’s going to be important for us throughout this year.”
Brad Stevens said the Celtics tried for far too many big plays in the first half, and settled down when they started “hitting singles” in the second half. No one player tried to do it all, as the Celtics had a balanced attack on offense and a team approach on defense.
This win felt a lot like the Isaiah Thomas-led Celtics of a few years ago. That team was a lot of fun to watch, and they won a lot of games like the Celtics did Wednesday night. That’s a good sign.
Tatum Goes Off In Second Half
The third-year forward was a big reason the Celtics fell behind by so much, going just 2-for-10 in the first half. He’s come out sluggish so far this season, averaging just 7.3 points in the first half over the first four games of the campaign.
It’d be nice if he could shake that, but it made his second-half heroics all the more enjoyable. Tatum led the charge in the third quarter, going 4-for-6 from the floor while draining all three of his shots from downtown.
Tatum canned back-to-back threes at the end of the third to give Boston an 80-76 lead. Paul Pierce, in the house for ESPN’s coverage, was a big fan.
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) October 31, 2019
That’s just good wholesome fun, people. Perhaps a passing of the torch, if you will.
Tatum remains extremely inefficient from the floor, needing 22 shots to score his 25 points. But after that rough start, he ended the night 10-for-22, making four of his seven bids from deep.
He only took two free throws (making one), which is a bit disappointing. He needs to go to the basket more, because when he does, he can make energizing plays like this:
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 31, 2019
That jam put the Celtics up 11 with 7:23 to play, and served as an early dagger for Boston.
Kemba is as advertised, a calm and cool assassin who can get to the hoop with ease and knock down gigantic shots. He nailed a pair of threes late in the fourth quarter to squash any chance at a Bucks comeback.
But it was Walker’s ability to get to the line that helped spark Boston’s comeback in the third. He started a personal 7-0 run by answering an absolutely bananas corner three by Kyle Korver with one of his patented driving layups (blowing by Robin Lopez in the process) to get Boston within seven points. Then he used his craftiness to get a pair of fouls a mile away from the basket, leading to five straight freebies.
Walker made all five, cutting that seven point lead to just two. Tatum followed by hitting his two threes to end the quarter, all part of a 20-7 run by Boston.
The Celtics haven’t been great at the charity stripe this season, but Walker was 14-for-15 from the line and a perfect 11-for-11 in the second half. When the Celtics needed to slow things down and put some easy points on the board, Walker got to the line and delivered.
Want some more Kemba? He now has two straight 30-point games. He’s averaging 28.7 points during Boston’s three-game win streak, hitting 58 percent of his shots in the second half. Of those 28.7 points, he’s averaging 20 of them in the second half.
Kemba Walker. Pretty darn good at basketball.
Gordon Is Aggressive Again
Hayward was not aggressive in the first half, and he looked completely lost. Then he got aggressive in the second half, and good things happened.
That bounce pass to Tatum in the fourth was a thing of beauty. But how about this driving layup:
Some people are comparing this to Jordan’s hand-switch layup. Not me, but some people are. pic.twitter.com/GpvaXxzAhh
— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) October 31, 2019
Hayward scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half, hitting seven of his nine shots. He also dished out six assists, finishing the night with seven helpers. Stay aggressive, Gordo.
With 10 rebounds to go with his 21 points, Hayward notched his first 20-10 game as a Celtic. It’s looking more and more like the old Hayward is back.
Smart’s Three Party
Marcus Smart kept the Celtics afloat with his three-point shooting, finishing the night 5-for-11 from downtown. It’d be nice to see him go to the basket more, as he attempted a grand total of ZERO free throws, but he should find a balance at some point this season. (We think.)
And then there was Smart being Smart in the fourth quarter. He was aggravating Giannis Antetkounmpo for much of the second half, and late in the game, actually belly flopped onto the reigning MVP — while flopping. Of course he drew a foul on Giannis in the process. It was peak Marcus Smart.
The way Giannis looked at Marcus Smart 👀 pic.twitter.com/lswIJ5xx2c
— ESPN (@espn) October 31, 2019
It looked like The Greek Freak would absolutely feast on the Jaylen Brown-less Celtics in the first half. But the buffet table went cold in the second half, thanks to a group effort led by Smart, and Milwaukee’s franchise player finished with a modest 22 points off 8-for-13 shooting (he hit six of his 10 freebies) to go with 14 rebounds and five assists. It was a big night, just not big enough for Giannis or the Bucks.
Wrapping It Up
Sure, there are concerns with this Celtics team. The slow starts are problematic, even if they have been leading to some rather fun second half basketball. Rim protection remains a big issue. And with Smart in the starting lineup, the bench was atrocious Wednesday night, finishing with just eight points. They scored just two points in the second half.
But the Celtics are now 3-1 on the young season, and they’ve shown over their last three games that they will not quit. It’s made watching Celtics basketball a whole lot of fun again.