By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — A lot went against the Celtics on Friday night, and most of it was their own doing. They fell into a giant hole early, Jayson Tatum had a horrendous night, and Giannis Antetokounmpo was given approximately 13 fouls.
Still, the Celtics nearly beat the best team in the NBA in their first game back in the NBA bubble down in Orlando. The Celtics lost to the Bucks 119-112, showing that they can still run with the NBA’s best, but that they also still have some work to do if they want to elevate themselves to title contender status. While a couple of questionable calls went against their favor at some key moments late in the game, the Celtics still need to play much better if they meet the Bucks again.
Boston has seven more seeding games to get it right before the playoffs, and though they were on the wrong side of the scoreboard on Friday night, there is a lot to be optimistic about when it comes to the Celtics. For starters, basketball is back. As the Celtics and fans stew over what could have been Friday night, they only have to wait two more days to see them in action again.
Here are some of the takeaways from a frustrating — but mostly entertaining — Celtics loss to the Bucks.
Jayson Tatum Was ICE COLD
Tatum had possibly his worst game as a professional basketball player. That is no exaggeration.
He shot a miserable 2-for-18, and one of those makes was not even his. Tatum was credited with a hoop that the Bucks knocked in, because he was the closest player to the hoop. He didn’t make his first shot until there was seven seconds left in the third quarter. That’s not going to cut it. Not when the other team’s star player puts in 36 points.
Tatum just never looked comfortable in his bubble debut. His shot looked off balance and the Bucks were there to meet him any time he drove to the hoop. If Tatum was just average, or even a little less terrible than he was, the Celtics would have won Friday night.
The good news is that Tatum has seven more games to shake it off before the playoffs.
“The least of our concern is him finding the net,” Brad Stevens said of Tatum’s struggles. “That’s what he does. He’ll be fine.”
Kemba Looked Good
Kemba and his sore knee looked pretty darn good in his 19 minutes of action. He had his usual burst to the basket, and said after the game that he felt normal and comfortable. That’s some great news.
Walker played 19 minutes and sat out the fourth quarter. Having a fully healthy Kemba would have made a huge difference down the stretch, but the focus right now is on having Kemba at his best when the playoffs arrive.
Overall, Walker had 16 points off 5-for-9 shooting from the floor and 3-for-6 from downtown. Not bad for 19 minutes of work.
Smart was Boston’s best player on Friday night, doing everything that Marcus Smart usually does. He led all scorers with 23 points in his 32 minutes off the bench, and his shot looked pretty good too, going 7-for-11 from the floor and 3-for-6 from three-point land.
Being Smart, he also played some solid defense throughout, occasionally on Giannis. It didn’t always end well for Smart, who took a shot to a very sensitive area and also had Antetokounmpo fall on him after he fell on his shoulder, but it wouldn’t be the stretch run of the season without Smart suffering a few bumps and bruises along the way.
Gordon Hayward (17 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists) and Daniel Theis (13 points, 12 rebounds) were also solid for Boston.
Still Lots Of Fight
Boston fell into a 17-2 hole to start the game, and then surrendered a 19-6 run in the second quarter to let Milwaukee build another double-digit lead. But the Celtics didn’t bow out and kept clawing back, mostly thanks to Walker and Smart.
“We had multiple possessions when we had four guys guarding, we made one mistake and they exposed it. On the offensive end we were passive early,” Stevens said of the team’s early struggles. “That was probably not a huge surprise. I thought the way we played the rest of the game was pretty darn good. We did more good things than bad, but we need to play better to beat these guys.”
No Answer For Giannis
That Giannis guy is the reigning MVP for a reason: He’s really stinkin’ good. The Greek Freak scored a game-high 36 points off 14-for-20 shooting, scoring most of those baskets with ease. He also pulled down 15 rebounds and had seven assists.
There is no rust on that man.
Let’s Complain About Refs
It wouldn’t be an NBA game without some questionable calls from the zebras. And they gave Antetokounmpo a few assists late, when he probably should have been watching the rest of the game from the bench.
The first call in question came when Giannis — with five fouls — delivered a chop to Theis’ ribs as the C’s big man set a screen. There was no whistle until Theis bent over in pain and the refs went to a review to see if there was “hostile act” on the play. No hostile act was found, and as the refs told Stevens during the game, they couldn’t then assess Giannis with a personal foul. Maybe it should have been a foul anyways, but when you’re a superstar, you tend to get some breaks. Frustrating, but it happens.
But when you add in the fact that this was initially ruled a charge on Giannis, which would have sent him to the bench — again, only to be reversed upon a review? Yeah, the Celtics and their fans are gonna be a tad bit upset with the officials.
— De’Wobbin Fox (@WorldWideWob) August 1, 2020
That will be up for debate for… at least a few days. Smart was not a happy man after the game, calling shenanigans on the NBA.
“I wish we got a better . The excuse was I was late on the charge. They said the replay center said I was late and it was a block. Quite frankly we know what that was about—Giannis had six fouls and they didn’t want to foul him out,” he said. “Let’s call a spade a spade.”
Giannis tried to profess his love for Smart and his playing style after the call got overturned, but Smart was having none of it.
Smart and Giannis had a pretty animated conversation near the #Celtics bench after the overturned call. Giannis was telling Smart how much he admired him as a defender and Smart told him "don't patronize me, you know what that call was about." #Celtics #Bucks #NBABubble
— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) August 1, 2020
That was a huge play with 1:28 left and the game tied at 107-107. Instead of the Celtics getting the ball with a chance to take a late lead, and Giannis taking a seat on the bench, Milwaukee got a three-point play and took a 110-107 advantage. Smart may have been guilty of moving a bit while Giannis was in the air, but it kind of felt like one of those “watch until you see something” reviews.
Six of Giannis’ 36 points came after that reversed call, sealing the victory for Milwaukee. Add in the fact that the Celtics took just five free throws in the second half, after making 29 trips to the charity stripe in the first half, and there are going to be a lot of things said about the officiating. This is the way in the NBA.
The Celtics may be angry at those calls, but complaining isn’t going to do much good now. What matters is taking that anger and turning it into some fuel the rest of the way.
Let’s just hope we get a few more Celtics-Bucks matchups down in the bubble.