MILWAUKEE – Fiserv Forum was electric pre-game, as the block party outdoors had fans partying in the sun and enjoying some early morning refreshments for the noon local time tip-off. Unfortunately for the locals, that joy was short lived as the Boston Celtics ran away with a 112-90 Game 1 victory, handing the Bucks their biggest loss of the season.
The Bucks struggled to make anything, while the Celtics could hardly miss. Kyrie Irving led the way with 26 points, and Al Horford created general chaos in pick-and-pop situations to finish with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Boston and Milwaukee played out a seven-game series in last year’s playoffs, with the home team taking each victory.
This year however, the tables have turned. Boston opted to start Horford at the five in this game, opting to go small in an effort to stretch the floor with five shooters, leaving Australian big man, Aron Baynes as a reserve.
Baynes would see the floor for just 8:55 of court time. He left the floor in the first quarter after turning his ankle on a bad landing. Baynes would limp to the locker room and not return, having played nearly 9 minutes, and ending the game with 4 points and a steal.
Celtics coach, Brad Stevens allayed any fears of serious injury. “He was available to go back in according to our training staff. Didn’t put him back in obviously.”
Given the combination of Baynes’ ankle injury and the success Boston had with the smaller lineup, the Australian may be forced to take a back seat as the series rolls along.
With just one day off before Game 2, his status remains in question for now.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. He has rolled it a few times in the past month, so we will see how he feels. He is obviously an important part of our team too,” Stevens said.
Likely MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo was stifled all day by Horford and company, finishing with 22 points, but struggled with a 7-for-21 performance.
Boston repeatedly threw multiple bodies at Antetokounmpo, forcing him to play through plenty of contact and into tough shot attempts. This sequence below where Horford managed to block his shot twice on one possession, typified the attention to detail and effort the Celtics displayed.
With home court playing such a pivotal factor in last year’s series, Horford and the Celtics knew how important landing the first punch could be, though handing the Bucks their first playoff loss in dominant fashion feels more like a statement then a mere punch.
“I just think we came in very focused and locked in on the things that we wanted to do as a group. We knew that we were going to have to play a very solid game,” Horford explained.
“I felt like our focus level was good from the beginning. We just continued to stick together throughout the game.”
It was an eerily quiet Bucks’ locker room post-game, as the Bucks now face their first real adversity in what has been a dominant regular season and first round of the playoffs.
Antetokounmpo was the last Buck to hit the showers, appearing deep in thought, as he so often is after a loss.
"Right now, we just have to focus on playing better. obviously, it was one of the toughest losses we've ever had, all season, especially at home. We just have to regroup, watch the tape and be ready for Tuesday," Antetokounmpo said.
Looking ahead to Tuesday was the theme for both teams. Boston veered away from getting ahead of themselves, while Milwaukee just wants to erase the memory of Game 1.
Brad Stevens stressed how important maintaining their high level of performance will be from game one, while Bucks coach, Mike Budenholzer, simply wants his team to show up.
"As a group we are going to have to be a lot better. Credit to Boston, individually and collectively, they played well today and we didn't," Budenholzer said.
"Between now and Tuesday, we'll look at ways we can get better defensively and better offensively. We look for to being on Tuesday."
They certainly will need to be better, or this series will be over before it got the chance to begin.
Game two between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks is on Wednesday morning – Tip-off is at 10am (AEST)