The Celtics stealing Game 1 from the Bucks was a surprise. Doing it by shutting down Giannis Antetokounmpo was shocking.
Things looked dire for the Bucks early in the first half of Game 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo was struggling to get buckets inside and the 3-pointers weren’t falling. Boston led by nine at the end of the first quarter and the lead stretched as high as 15 before Milwaukee got going. Nikola Mirotic hit a trio of 3-pointers in the second quarter and Khris Middleton came through with some big buckets to help close the gap, cutting Boston’s lead to two at the half.
While it seemed that Milwaukee might have gained their footing, they absolutely withered in the second half, managing just 40 total points and watching the margin stretch into blowout territory. The Bucks will have a lot of issues to correct for Game 2 but chief among them will be figuring out how to help Giannis spring free.
The Celtics were ready for Giannis. They did a great job in the first half, keeping bodies between Giannis and the basket. He attempted six shots in the paint in the first half but only two were in the immediate area of the basket and he missed all four that weren’t. Al Horford carried a lot of the defensive load, coming up with 3 blocks and helping hold Giannis to 22 points on 21 shots, with just two assists to two turnovers. Incredibly, Giannis was that inefficient despite hitting 3-of-5 3-pointers. He finished 4-of-15 on shots in the paint and didn’t do himself any favors by missing five free throws. Nikola Mirotic and Khris Middleton hit some 3s but, by and large, the Bucks weren’t able to make the Celtics paint for crashing down on Giannis’ drives.
Gordon Hayward was big off the bench. Hayward was huge in the first half, chipping in 10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a block in 18 minutes, during which Boston outscored Milwaukee by seven. He only added three points in the second half, but another three assists. An aggressive and efficient Hayward is a game-changer for the Celtics, letting them stagger out rotations more and maintain lineups with multiple shot creators. He’s been up-and-down in the first round but if he can keep giving the Celtics efforts like this, they’re in great shape.
Finishing in the paint was as big a problem for the Bucks as their shaky shooting. Milwaukee’s 3-point shooting got plenty of attention this season but it was facilitated by their ability to score around the basket and force the defense to focus on two different areas, far apart. The Bucks were just 13-of-39 (33.3 percent) on 3-pointers and but the 39 points they scored from beyond the arc was just a touch less than what they averaged per game in the regular season. However, they managed just 26 points in the paint in Game 1, down from 53.3 in the regular season, the third-best mark in the league. Giannis’ struggles to finish were a big part of that but Eric Bledsoe averaged 8.3 points in the paint per game in the regular season and managed just 6 points total in Game 1. Milwaukee needs to hit outside shots but they also need to get out in transition and get their penetration game going as well.