BOSTON – When the Celtics needed their two stars the most, they both came. Jaylyn Brown make things go, and Jason Tatum is over.
After the Bostonians didn’t match the Milwaukee Bucks’ physicality in the first game of their series in the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday, the Celtics came out with a very different situation on Tuesday, controlling the game from the opening end and leading wire to wire in a 109-86 victory.
“We knew we had to go out and play like our season was on the line, and we did,” Brown said.
Brown finished with 30 points, the highest in the game, and defeated six three-pointers. He set the tone for the team early on as they looked to recover from the lackluster performance in Game 1.
“We adapted well,” Celtics coach Amy Odoka said. “We learned a few things from the first game and we felt like we knew we didn’t react according to the way we play. Two great teams but we haven’t outgrown them like that all year. I think our guys take pride in that. He took that very seriously and knew we were going to put in the right effort tonight.”
The accusation was led by Brown, who scored his highest play-off 25 points in the first half. He was key as the Boston team opened up an 18-3 lead and never looked back.
“It’s the playoffs,” Brown said. “Survival of the fittest. Every match counts.”
In the first game, the Celtics scored 10 field goals from just two points, which is a privilege low for a playoff or regular game. Odoka lamented how the team walked away from the mid-range match. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday, as Brown hit three midranges early to set the tone there.
Odoka said he spoke to Brown and Tatum about it before the match.
“We knew those were open,” Odoka said. “You don’t have to go too far and drive towards the bigs and just take the three. We have two really elite mid-level shooters and we welcome those shots, especially when they come back to this place.”
Celtics forward Grant Williams He said he knew hours before the match started that Brown was going to have a big night.
“I saw it in his eyes,” Williams said. “So at the beginning of the game I was like, ‘Okay, do whatever you want’ and we support and encourage. He establishes that tone and puts the aggression mark on the offensive end, not only hitting the open shots but also moving him.”
While Brown was leading the offensive early, Tatum took care of things late, scoring 19 of his 29 points in the second half.
Like Williams, Tatum said he knew Brown would be ready for a big game night. But more than that, he knew his team was ready to make a comeback.
“We were irritated with the way we played the last game, and from top to bottom we knew we had to play better,” Tatum said. “So easy.”
The Celtics played stellar defense all over, but they did a much better job of making life difficult for the Bucks star. Giannis Antikonmo. The two-time MVP had 28 points, but went 11 of 27 from the field and 5 of 9 from the streak.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said the Celtics defenders were credited with how they guarded him through the night.
“The guys who stand by him, they are strong, good, good defenders and after that they are a bit of a help,” said Budenholzer. “That’s where he just has to see and feel – do we kick him and get more three points or does he have to finish against a one-on-one defense. So, I think he’s a bit of both. But Giannis, he’s always painting things.”
When a reporter told Antetokounmpo what Budenholzer had to say about finding things, he said, “I’m trying. I’m trying to figure it out.”
“It’s the playoffs,” said Antetokounmo. “Obviously they will be physical. They will be more physical. It won’t be called as many mistakes, there will be more activity, more discipline, but at the end of the day, the same mindset, the mentality doesn’t change, you have to keep walking away, keep looking for solutions. To make the game yours. And play good games. Find your teammates, get in on the drawing. No matter what they do, my mentality and the team mentality can’t change.”
Boston did things defensively without the 2021-22 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart He sat with a right quadrilateral contusion. With three days off between Game Two and Game Three in Milwaukee on Saturday, the Celtics are hoping to get back into the lineup next.
Brown was dealing with a hamstring injury, and Odoka said his withdrawal a minute earlier than the Novices, with Boston leading 99-86 with 2:51 on the end, was about to keep since he played 38 minutes. Brown said his hamstrings have been fine, he will be ready to go into game three and that 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 are ready to perform. At this time of year everyone has annoying injuries or things to deal with so we can’t let that be an excuse. You have to find a way mentally and physically to get through it all It is and accomplished.”
Brown added that this was the Celtics’ first real test of the playoffs after sweeping the Brooklyn Nets in the first round and was curious as to how the team would respond. Tatum was confident the response would be positive.
Not every match is going to be perfect,” Tatum said. “We’re playing against the defending champions. They hit in the mouth in the first game. I knew we were going to be ready tonight from a competitive point of view. Making adjustments from game to game, I think that’s what the playoffs are all about.”
ESPN’s Jamal Collier contributed to this report.
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