C’s Find Ways to Use Rough Night in Milwaukee to Their Advantage

C’s Find Ways to Use Rough Night in Milwaukee to Their Advantage


A shorthanded Boston Celtics team encountered a situation Tuesday night in Milwaukee that it hadn’t faced in a long time: a deficit of more than 20 points.

Even though they couldn’t overcome the massive disadvantage, eventually falling 104-91 at Fiserv Forum, it was still a valuable experience for the C’s to have at this point in the season. They were forced to claw their way back – which they did to some extent, cutting the deficit from 24 down to 11 – and that’s a position that they need to be in from time to time because you never know what type of difficult situations you’ll need to claw your way out of in the playoffs.

“I think it’s good for us to be in a bunch of different situations,” said head coach Joe Mazzulla, whose team is usually the one that’s leading by 20. “That was the first time that a game wasn’t going our way since… I don’t remember when. So to me, it was a good opportunity to just play through that ­– find different ways to create runs, find different ways to just build stuff on either end of the floor. So I thought it was a good situation for us to be in because we hadn’t seen it in a while.”

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Boston went into the matchup already disadvantaged, missing its top two centers: Kristaps Porzingis (right hamstring injury management) and Al Horford (left big toe sprain). The C’s went with Xavier Tillman as the starting center and Luke Kornet as the backup 5.

To make matters more difficult, Milwaukee outshot the Celtics by 43 percentage points in the first quarter (73.7 percent to 30.8 percent), which led to a 37-21 deficit out of the gate.

The C’s continued to struggle into the second quarter, hitting their lowest point when they were down 47-23; but they stuck with it, made a few runs, and nearly cut the deficit to single digits.

Throughout the process, Joe Mazzulla tested out a few unique lineups – something he has the luxury of doing having already clinched the No. 1 overall seed.

One of those was a center-free lineup from the seven-minute mark of the third quarter until the end of the frame. During that stretch, the C’s went with Derrick White (later subbed out for Payton Pritchard), Jrue Holiday, Sam Hauser, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum against a fairly large Bucks fivesome. Interestingly, that’s when Boston went on one of its biggest runs, as it outscored Milwaukee 17-9 during that stretch.

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“I liked the ability for us to switch a little bit,” Mazzulla said of the center-free minutes. “I liked the spacing that we were able to get. Their reads were a little bit clearer because we had five on the perimeter and they were doubling Jayson every time, the two-on-ones were right there. It was just to give the game a little something different. I thought we had played with the 5 some of the game, and then the game kind of just presented an opportunity to do that.”

Aside from that first quarter, Boston’s defense was impressive. It held the Bucks to 26 points in both the second and fourth frames and allowed just 15 points in the third.

But offensively, it just wasn’t the Celtics’ night. Though, it was also just a strange offensive night in general; the Celtics made history by becoming the first team in NBA history to not attempt a free throw, while the Bucks only attempted two.

It was Boston’s lowest-scoring game of the season and just the third time it had been held under 100 in 79 matchups. But it’s nothing to be worried about at this stage in the season since they’ve got the East all wrapped up and are taking opportunities to rest guys and experiment with different lineups.

After all, this was only the fourth loss the C’s have suffered since Feb. 1.

“I think our guys pretty much are staying the course,” Mazzulla said. “I always go back to, can you handle winning and losing the same from the process of this is what we did well and this is what we didn’t? And can we get better as a team? I think our guys continue to do a good job of that.”

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