Celtics-Bucks takeaways: C's make strong statement with dominant win


The Milwaukee Bucks may end up with the No. 1 seed, but the Boston Celtics made a firm statement that they're still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

Thursday night's showdown at Fiserv Forum marked an utterly dominant performance by Boston. After a back-and-forth first quarter, the Celtics scored 41 points in the second to take a 28-point lead into the half. They led by as many as 49 to bounce back from Tuesday's loss in Washington and blow out the first-place Bucks, 140-99.

That matches Milwaukee's largest loss of the season.

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Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown furthered their All-NBA-caliber seasons with 40 and 30 points, respectively. Al Horford and Malcoln Brogdon added 14 points apiece.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 24 points but was held in check as the two-time MVP shot 11-for-27 from the field. Khris Middleton was Milwaukee's next-highest scorer with 13 points.

Five games remain on the Celtics' regular-season schedule. They'll return home for the second night of a back-to-back vs. the Utah Jazz on Friday.

First, here are three quick takeaways from Thursday's demolition of the Bucks.

A complete 180

What a difference a couple of days makes. The same team that lost to the lowly Wizards by 19 on Tuesday traveled to Milwaukee to beat the Bucks by 41.

After allowing Washington to shoot 54.5 percent from the floor, Boston limited Milwaukee to just 37.6 percent on field goals. The Bucks struggled from 3-point range all game and finished 14-for-43 (32.6 percent) from beyond the arc. They were 3-of-22 from 3 at the half and missed all 11 of their attempts in the second quarter. That marked the most misses they've had without a make in a quarter this season.

The Celtics' shooting stroke bounced back along with their defense. They shot 56 percent on field goals, including 22-for-43 (51.2 percent) from deep after going just 11-for-44 vs. the Wizards.

There are two very different versions of this season's Celtics. Fans will hope Thursday's version is the one that shows up in the 2023 NBA playoffs.

C's stars step up again on big stage

You don't have to worry about the Celtics' superstars showing up when the lights are the brightest vs. their toughest opponent in the conference.

Tatum and Brown combined for 70 points against Milwaukee in their Christmas Day victory. They gave an encore performance Thursday on national television with, you guessed it, 70 combined points.

Tatum dropped 40 points on 12-of-18 shooting. The 3-pointers hadn't been falling for the four-time All-Star lately, but this time he exploded for eight made 3s on 10 attempts.

Brown tallied 20 of his 30 points in the first half, 17 of them in the first quarter. He put an exclamation mark on his All-NBA case by shooting 13-of-20 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from 3.

Tatum and Brown's numbers could have been even bigger, but the blowout allowed Joe Mazzulla to rest his stars for the entire fourth quarter. That rest comes at a great time with Boston playing the second game of a back-to-back Friday night at TD Garden.

Robert Williams shows his importance

The Celtics and their fans are well aware that a healthy Rob Williams is a game-changer on both ends of the floor. But just in case there's someone out there who needed a reminder of Time Lord's importance, he gave them one on Thursday.

Williams set the tone with his energy and made the most of his 19 minutes on the court. He bullied the Bucks on the glass (seven rebounds, four offensive) and at the rim (four blocks).

Williams also hit all three of his shots for seven points off the bench. The 25-year-old wasn't 100 percent healthy for last year's playoff run, so C's fans should be giddy about the chance to watch him at full strength this time around. Especially after seeing what he can do against the top team in the East.

Seeding update

Tatum won't admit it, but the Celtics are probably kicking themselves over that inexcusable loss to the Wizards. It very well could wind up being the difference between the No. 1 and No. 2 seed.

The No. 1 seed is still in play for the C's after Thursday's win, but it isn't likely. They secured the tiebreaker over the Bucks and now trail by only two games in the standings. However, with only five games left in the regular season, they may have to win out to have a shot at earning homecourt advantage in the playoffs.

Boston now leads the third-place Philadelphia 76ers by 2.5 games. The team wraps up its season against the Jazz, Sixers, Toronto Raptors (twice), and Atlanta Hawks.

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