With just more than a week remaining in the regular season, it may be too late for the Celtics to catch the Bucks in the race for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed, especially after Tuesday’s horrendous loss to the Wizards.
But that didn’t stop them from making a statement in Milwaukee on Thursday night.
The Celtics were due for a strong response – given that loss and the opponent – but probably not this strong. Led by their two best players, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the Celtics went into Fiserv Forum and handed the best team in the NBA its worst loss of the season, a 140-99 bludgeoning that was over by halftime.
The Bucks were playing the second night of a back-to-back – and looked like it with their woeful performance on both ends – but this dismantling could have some ripple effects if the two teams end up meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals in a couple of months.
The Celtics are now two games back of the Bucks with five games left and own the tiebreaker after winning the season series, 2-1. It’s still unlikely that the C’s will make up that ground to reclaim the No. 1 seed, but even if they don’t get home-court advantage over the Bucks, Thursday’s dominant showing was continued proof that the Celtics won’t be worried about going into Milwaukee and get a win if they need to this spring.
In their three meetings with the Bucks this season, the Celtics were more than up to the challenge. They won by 21 in Boston on Christmas Day. Even in their lone loss to the Bucks last month, the Celtics were without four starters and forced overtime. Then came Thursday’s dismantling, which the Celtics controlled from start to finish.
Tatum led the way with 40 points, which included 18 in the third quarter, and Brown added 30 points as the Celtics ran the Bucks out of their own gym. Brown scored 17 points in the first quarter before Tatum took control with 13 points in the span of less than three minutes. Behind hot shooting from Tatum and Al Horford, strong bench play from Malcolm Brogdon, energy plays from Robert Williams and a poor 3-point shooting night from the Bucks, the Celtics went ahead by 28 at halftime with a 75-47 lead.
The Bucks never made a run or threatened a comeback.
The Celtics extended their lead to 39 when Brown hit a pull-up jumper with 4:25 left in the third quarter. Similar to Boston’s demolition of the Suns back in December, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer waved the white flag at that point and pulled his starters. Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla rolled with his starters for the remainder of the period as Boston pushed its lead to 43. They led by as many as 49 in the fourth quarter.