The shorthanded Celtics played the Bucks on Thursday with the second seed on the line and Jayson Tatum and Al Horford on the bench, and they nearly got a win.
“And Rob,” said Ime Udoka, smiling slightly when a reporter asked him to be shorthanded without Tatum and Horford.
Yes, Rob too.
So maybe the Celtics can be excused if they don’t take Thursday’s result too seriously. Without three of their starters, they relied heavily on Jaylen Brown (more on him in a minute), Marcus Smart and an unusual cast of role players. Much like their game against the Raptors last week, the Celtics were shorthanded and not looking for a moral victory, but were pretty happy with how hard they played.
“What I told the guys was a big effort overall,” Udoka said. “Great experience for a lot of guys that we will depend on in the future.”
Smart led the charge with 29 of 7 points for 12 3-pointers and seven assists. He was part of the 3-point barrage that kept the Celtics in the game – they made 21 triples, seven more than the Bucks (which, of course, is 21 extra points), and finished 21 for 50 ( 42%) from behind the arc.
“[The Bucks] really thrilled the painting,” Udoka said. “That’s who they are. They sell to protect the paint and give up, prefer the mid-range. But they would obviously like to protect the paintwork at all costs, so get under the shooters’ screens. Every time JB walked in and the guys came to the paint, there were four, five guys there. So we tell them: ‘Make the first shot, clean shot that you are going to have. You might not get a better one in this possession.
The Celtics probably can’t expect to make that many 3-pointers again, but given the plausibility of a second-round series against the Bucks, they can feel good about how they trailed Thursday.
2. Jaylen Brown recorded his second triple-double of the season and his career, posting 22 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
In an expanded offensive role, Brown held up well, helped by the Celtics’ productive volume 3-point shot. Udoka recently noted that Tatum isn’t the only Celtics player to draw a double team – Brown too. As Brown improves in this area, the Celtics will become increasingly difficult to guard.
Tatum’s return will boost the Celtics on both sides, but the offense hasn’t suffered with plenty of 3-point shooting and Brown leading.
3. Sam Hauser caught fire in the first half. In the first quarter, he arrived late and almost immediately buried a 3-pointer. In the second, he made two more on consecutive early possessions. Hauser — who the Celtics have under a $1.5 million team option for next season — scored 11 points on 4-for-5 (3-for-4-of-3) shooting in 18 minutes.
Getting an optional second season with Hauser’s team could have been a productive move by Stevens – the Celtics may very well want to take a closer look at how he might fit in.
4. The Celtics have fallen to third in the standings – half a game behind the Bucks and half a game ahead of the 76ers. The Celtics still have one road game against the Grizzlies, while the Bucks (Cavaliers, Pistons) and Sixers (Pacers, Pistons have two each.
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