BOSTON — When the Celtics needed their two stars the most, they both pulled it off. Jaylen Brown got it going and Jayson Tatum finished it.
After Boston failed to match the physicality of the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of their Eastern Semifinals series on Sunday, the Celtics came out with a very different attitude on Tuesday, controlling play from the opening tip and leading the way. to wire in a 109-86 victory.
“We knew we had to go out and play like our season was on the line,” Brown said, “and we did.”
Brown finished with a game-high 30 points and knocked down a career-high six 3-pointers in the playoffs. He set the tone for the team early on as they looked to bounce back from a lackluster performance in the opener.
“We’ve adapted well,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “We learned some things from the first game and we felt like we didn’t react accordingly to the way we play. Two great teams but we haven’t been muscled like that all year. I think that our guys were proud of that, took that to heart and we knew we would put in the right effort tonight.”
Brown led that charge, with a playoff career-high 25 points in the first half. He played a key role as Boston opened up an 18-3 lead and never looked back.
“It’s the playoffs,” Brown said. “Survival of the fittest. Every game counts.”
In Game 1, the Celtics scored just 10 two-point field goals, a franchise low for a playoff game or regular season game. Udoka lamented how the team moved away from mid-range play. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday, as Brown hit three early midranges to set the tone.
Udoka said he talked to Brown and Tatum about it before the game.
“We knew those were open,” Udoka said. “You don’t have to get too deep and drive in the big ones and just take the 3. We’ve got two really elite mid-range shooters and we welcome those shots, especially when they’re back in that drop .”
Celtics forward Grant Williams said he knew hours before the game started that Brown was going to have a big night.
“I saw it in his eyes,” Williams said. “So at the start of the game I was just like, ‘Okay, do your thing’ and we’re supporting and cheering. He set that tone and set the mark of aggression on the attacking side, not just knocking down open shots. but also move it.”
While Brown led the charge early, Tatum took care of things late, scoring 19 of his 29 points in the second half.
Like Williams, Tatum said he knew Brown was going to be set for a big night before the game. But more than that, he knew his team was ready to bounce back.
“We were pissed off with the way we played the last game and from top to bottom we knew we just had to play better,” Tatum said. “Simple as that.”
The Celtics played stellar defense all around but did a much better job of making life difficult for Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-time MVP had 28 points, but went 11 of 27 from the field and 5 of 9 from the line.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said credit was due to the Celtics defensemen for how they guarded him throughout the night.
“The guys on him, they’re solid, good, good defenders and then a lot of help,” Budenholzer said. “That’s where he just has to see it and feel it – do we hit him and get over 3s or he has to finish against a one-on-one defence. So I think it’s a bit of both. But Giannis, he always deciphers things.”
When a reporter told Antetokounmpo what Budenholzer said about figuring things out, he said, “I try. I try to understand.”
“It’s the playoffs,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously they’re going to be physical. They’re going to be more physical. There won’t be a lot of fouls called, there’s going to be more activity, more discipline, but at the end of the day it’s the same mentality. , the state of mind does not change, you have to keep snacking, keep finding solutions to take ownership of the game. Make good plays. Find your teammates, get into the paint. No matter what they do , my mindset and the team’s mindset cannot change.”
Boston got things going defensively without the 2021-22 NBA Defensive Player of the Year as Marcus Smart sat with a bruised right quad. With three days off between Game 2 and Game 3 in Milwaukee on Saturday, the Celtics hope he will return to the lineup then.
Brown has been struggling with a lingering hamstring injury, and Udoka said shooting him a minute earlier than other starters, with Boston up 99-86 with 2:51 left, was to save him as he had played 38 minutes. Brown said his hamstrings are feeling good, he’ll be ready for Game 3, and injuries are just something every player has to deal with at this point in the season.
“The only thing that matters is the playoffs,” Brown said. “Everyone, we have to do what we have to do to make sure we’re ready to perform. At this time of year everyone has nagging injuries or things they’re dealing with so can’t let that be an excuse. You have to find a mental and physical way to overcome whatever it is and do it.
Brown added that this was the Celtics’ first real playoff test after sweeping the Brooklyn Nets in the first round and he was curious how the team would react. Tatum was convinced the answer was going to be positive.
“Not every game will be perfect,” Tatum said. “We’re playing against the defending champions. They punched in the mouth in the first game. I knew we were going to be ready tonight competitively. Making adjustments from game to game I think that’s what the playoffs are for.”
ESPN’s Jamal Collier contributed to this report.
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