MILWAUKEE – Five takeaways from the Milwaukee Bucks’ 103-101 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 3 on Saturday at Fiserv Forum to take a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference Semifinals series:
1. Marcus Smart could score a point, when he needed 3
When Smart, Boston’s defensive-minded point guard, came on with 11.2 and got the ball up high, he didn’t have many options. He was deep, slightly to the right and his momentum was heading for the touchline. Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday skipped it behind Jaylen Brown’s screen, so Smart seemed to be getting into the best shooting form available to him at the time.
Which was judged with no shooting form at all. The contact came before any attempt to take a shot, the referees ruled. That meant two free throws, not three, with the Celtics down 103-100, now with 4.6 seconds left.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer went further, saying Smart was doing a tearing move designed to snook the umpires. “Marcus Smart tried to do the [Kevin] Durant, the sweeping thing,” Budenholzer said. “[We were] Luckily it was two free throws, but we weren’t trying to foul.
There were a few things wrong with that, however. Maybe Milwaukee should have tried to foul — they had a terrific opportunity when Brown veered into the paint, Holiday an easy hit. There were about eight seconds left then, so maybe Budenholzer didn’t like the idea of letting Boston get close to a point with that much time left.
He rarely does. On the scale of coaches who want to foul by protecting a 3-point lead against those who abhor it, Budenholzer ranks near the latter.
“Every coach is probably different,” he said. “It’s a great philosophical question. … There is nothing perfect, unfortunately. You have to work on it. You have to understand what you’re doing and be at your best in the late game. »
It remains unanswered, why would Smart try to swing his arms for a loop call, knowing that these are no longer treated as shooting faults? Did he not know how these are judged now? Did he think he could fool the referees?
“It wouldn’t make sense to do a tearing move on the 3-point line when you have a clear shot for three-on-three,” Smart said. “They didn’t give me an explanation. When I went to ask, they looked at me funny, told me to go to the free throw line.
“It’s not like he put me down. I was in my shot move, I thought it was three.
Holiday jumped straight into Smart’s space, so the question remains, did he make contact before the Celtics guard got going? Officially, no. Holiday said he wanted to entice and entice Smart to drive inside the arc. Although that too would have made no sense to Smart.
The alternative would have been to avoid contact altogether and let Smart — a 33 percent shooter from downtown on the season and 2 of 10 in this series — get off to a bad, hasty start.
2. Finally, an intentionally missed free throw.
We still haven’t found Sasquatch, a unicorn, or Diogenes’ true honest man. But we were treated to an intentionally missed free throw that did exactly what it was supposed to do: create chaos and almost send the game to overtime.
As Smart was limited to two foul shots with 4.6 seconds left but a three-point gap to close, he did what he could: did the first, then shot the ball flat and hard through the edge and against the glass. First guy on the ball as he flees to the left? Smart himself.
“Marcus got off the line pretty quickly,” Holiday said.
Smart returned the ball to the edge. Then Celtics big man Robert Williams III hit him up and down the right side. This is where Al Horford was planted. He tapped it once, no good. He tapped again…too late.
The Celtics momentarily celebrated what appeared to be a 103-103 tie, even though everyone knew a replay was imminent. Even before game officials gave a verdict, a replay of the scoreboard had Horford – with a stellar performance: 22 points, 16 rebounds and five assists four weeks shy of his 36and birthday — and his buddies who run the visitor tunnel.
3. Something else Tatum can think of.
Jayson Tatum’s misses in Game 3 quickly piled up. He was 2 of 9 at halftime, then made just one of eight field goal attempts in the third quarter when the Celtics were doubled on the scoreboard 34-17.
This period was a disaster for the Boston forward – every time he shot you thought it would hit him and get him going. Instead, the bricks stacked as if they had been commissioned by DJ Khaled.
By the fourth quarter, Tatum had had enough. He left the score to teammates Brown and Al Horford, tried to find open men and threw just two shots.
It was a nightmarish performance that undermined some of the praise showered on Tatum as a 24-year-old wonderkid, although the player downplayed any real significance.
“Today was just a once-in-a-lifetime occasion where I was probably thinking a little too much, knowing that they were giving me a lot of attention,” Tatum said. “Obviously I let a few open looks slip by which would have been best for the team. That led to turnovers and things like that.
“I don’t think they changed anything. I think they do a good job of showing a crowd and being physical. I was just thinking a little too much today.
Could be. But Wesley Matthews in particular and his Milwaukee cohorts have been busting their butts denying and harassing Tatum, normally the Celtics’ biggest scoring threat. And let’s not forget a trend that emerged in those playoff matchups with the Bucks: Tatum’s three worst shooting performances in 57 playoff games came against Milwaukee. There was a 2 of 9 night in Game 2 of the 2018 first round near the end of Tatum’s rookie year; a 2-of-10 mess in Game 2 of the Eastern Semifinals a year later, then on Saturday.
4. Antetokounmpo’s stakes are the best in the NBA.
It says something that a guy who gets 42 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks can’t rank above fourth in the takeout from a game like this. Let’s go out and say it: Giannis Antetokounmpo is in this realm of superstars who are taken for granted. He’s done so well, so often, dragging Milwaukee many nights where he has to go.
Antetokounmpo has moved up the ranks of offensive burden in this series, increasing his shot attempts from 25 in Game 1 to 27 in the disappointing Game 2 to 30 on Saturday. He unleashed a variety of weapons, from jump hooks and 3-pointers to mid-range jumpers and of course his bull rushes to the basket for dunks and finger rolls. He inflicted penalties with his elbows and the ball, but took a lot too.
Antetokounmpo’s approach? No blueprint or blueprint. “Take what’s in front of me,” he said.
As showy as his stats are, it was his killer performances that earned them.
“He’s so good at being mentally tough,” center Brook Lopez said. “He obviously has a lot of guys throwing themselves at him when he tries to get into his moves and make plays for himself and everyone else. It does a great job of sticking with it, staying in the game, and keeping its mojo… It can be frustrating at times. It does a great job of letting it flow like water off a duck’s back.
5. The referees could have favored… both teams?
The Celtics didn’t like how Smart’s top game was called. They felt the Bucks in general and Antetokounmpo in particular get away with unwarranted contact. Some felt Holiday pushed Tatum down when he scored a desperate bucket in the lane to beat the shot clock and take a 103-100 lead (although replays showed Tatum falling when Holiday stepped on his basketball).
Boston coach Ime Udoka sarcastically said, “I’m going to teach my guys to flop more.”
Uh, please no.
However angry the Celtics were, the Bucks had data on their side. They shot an accurate zero free throws in the game’s final 16:33 — that’s right, 0 of 0 in the fourth quarter of a playoff game — and had just 17 all game against Boston’s 34. In three games, the Celtics have shot 69 free throws and been called for 69 fouls. The Bucks, 51 and 67.
Budenholzer wisely kept the NBA headquarters in New York out of his pocket, saying simply “We gotta keep them off the free throw line.” Antetokounmpo walked that fine/not fine line more kindly.
“How much does it cost if I say something, comment on references? he wondered from the podium. “Is it $20,000? It’s a lot of
Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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