MILWAUKEE – The Boston Celtics, led by an in-form Kyrie Irving, surprised the Bucks in Milwaukee on Sunday in the first match of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The “Green” franchise’s star made all the difference with a 26-point double-double, 11 assists and seven rebounds.
The squad from the Bay State recovered the home pitch advantage after winning 112-90.
The second game of the series is set to be played on the same stage, in the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, on April 30. The duel will provide the Bucks with another chance to prove why they were the best team of their division in the regular season.
Irving commanded a magnificent Celtics performance: five players finished with double figures and with a 54 (47-of-87) percent success in the field shots, including 42 (13-of-31) three-pointers.
They also dominated the inner game with 51 rebounds against 44 for the Bucks, helped by the work of Dominican center Al Horford, who was decisive and finished the match with a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Horford – in the 32 minutes he played – scored 8-of-16 field shots, including 3-of-5 three-pointers, and 1-of-2 from the free throw line.
The Dominican international also handed out three assists, recovered one ball, lost none and committed only two fouls.
Shooting guard Jaylen Brown emerged as a boost for the Celtics as well when he scored 19 points with 3 three-pointers, capturing 4 rebounds and playing an overall great defense.
But the support of the bench was another of the winning factors for the Celtics, with the forward Gordon Hayward as leader and sixth player that contributed 13 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds. At the same time, guard Terry Rozier gave minutes of quality to the team while Irving took a break, scoring 11 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists.
“This is a hard team to play against,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “That wasn’t their best game.”
“The playoff has only just begun, but to do so with a win is very important for the morale of the team, as well as regaining the field advantage,” he added.
This time the Bucks’ star power forward, Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, did not manage to become a decisive game-changer. He stayed at 22 points after scoring 7 of 21 shots from the field and had no role in the inner game, achieving just seven rebounds.
Antetokounmpo made his first shot at the beginning of the second period, having difficulties to overcome the great defense that the Celtics presented.
Forward Khris Middleton, with 16 points, was the second-highest scorer for the Bucks, which had only three players with double digits, including the Montenegrin-Spanish power forward Nikola Mirotic, who contributed 13 points as a reserve.
Mirotic, who played 21 minutes, was the most consistent and effective player of the Bucks: he scored 5-of-9 field shots – including 3-of-4 three-pointers – which kept the team in the game with 52-50 by halftime.
The former Real Madrid player also captured 4 rebounds – 3 of them defensive – and committed one personal foul.
The face-off became lopsided in the third period, when the Celtics started to dominate in all facets of the game, while the Bucks, depending exclusively on the inspiration of Antetokounmpo, saw that their star was not going through his best day. That’s where the game ended for them.
The Celtics, who had swept the series against the Indiana Pacers in the first round, confirmed that they are in their best playing form so far this season.
The players on the Massachusetts team wore a black bracelet with the number 17 in memory of legendary Hall of Fame member John Havlicek, who died on April 25 at age 79 after winning eight league titles with the so-called C-Green Smash Machine and playing for the franchise over 16 seasons.