Celtics vs. Bucks: Brook Lopez plays superhero, Milwaukee defense scores first-round knockdown


If you’re looking to completely discredit single-game plus-minus numbers, look no further than Brook Lopez’s minus-10 line in the Milwaukee Bucks’ Game 1 win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday. Lopez was a superhero. He was the center of a huge The Bucks defense, figuratively and literally, that protected the paint like club bouncers.

Lopez finished with three blocks and 10 rebounds.

These figures are also misleading.

Lopez assigned far more shots than the three he blocked. Along with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bobby Portis (who made up the Bucks’ high-rise starting frontline), Lopez prioritized paint protection in the typical drop-proof fashion, which he has a terrific feeling for, knowing precisely when to stop giving ground, plant his flag, and contest with his 7-foot-6 wingspan. Giannis was equally threatening not just as a rim protector, but as an overall shooting competitor. It was as if the Celtics were trying to shoot through a field of windmills.

Under Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks have long been willing to give up 3 points if it means controlling the paint. The philosophy has come under scrutiny in the past, but not all 3-point attempts are created equal. Of course, if your big goes deep on a pick and roll against a great pull shooter, and you give up walk-in 3 after walk-in 3, it won’t work. But that was surely not the case on Sunday.

Late in the first quarter, the Bucks increased their peripheral ball pressure, and that’s where it starts. Lopez doesn’t have to ward off penetrators who didn’t have to work to get past the first line of security. This is not a Rudy Gobert situation in Utah. The Milwaukee Perimeter guys are doing their job. Jrue Holiday, Javon Carter and Pat Connaughton sucked all the air between them and the Boston ballhandlers. They were fighting over the screens and the wings were on high alert to drive into the taxiways. If need be, Giannis and Portis would leave their marksman altogether – Al Horford on a couple of occasions – to join the inside swarm.

After all that, so you meet Lopez. The result: Milwaukee gave up just 20 points in the paint for the entire game. In the second quarter, the Celtics only managed six shots from inside the arc.

Even when the Celtics reached the paint, they weren’t doing it on their terms. At best, they had maybe a half step on the defender dragging hard across the screen with a big turn in front of them; at worst, they were out of control, off balance and barely holding the ball. Boston wants clean driving and kicking, but Milwaukee was stoning them to such a degree that throwback passes felt more like save passes.

Jump stop. Wrong pump. Pivot. Shit, am I still surrounded by trees? Well, I guess I’m going to pass out.

By then, the Bucks had time to get back to shooting and contesting. The Celtics were forced to take 50 3-point shots, and you could count on one hand how many were clean, on pace and a shooter that actually concerns Milwaukee. Derrick White, Marcus Smart or even Horford, Grant Williams or Payton Pritchard probably won’t make enough 3-pointers to beat Milwaukee in a seven-game series.

Boston needs Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to do that job. Milwaukee knows it. Tatum has caught the superstar’s eye, as it should, in the face of the occasional double, but more often by simply seeing two or three defenders assist within a step of his driving lanes while dealing with a relentless ball pressure. He finished with 21 points but only shot 6 of 18 from the field.

We’ve seen the impact of Tatum’s gravity with open looks for Horford and Grant Williams, and those are shots Boston is going to have to knock down as the series progresses.

Brown, on the other hand, was terrible. There is no other way to say it. He hesitated. Negligent. He over-penetrated when there was nowhere to go. He finished with 12 points on 4 of 13 shooting, including 3 of 9 of 3, with seven turnovers.

Going forward, it’s a Brown series for Boston. He won’t see the same kind of attention as Tatum, and if he can beat his defender more effectively and get into the paint with leverage and real ball control, it can lead to kicking passes. to Tatum, who can then attack against a rotating defense rather than a fixed defense.

Boston has its own teeming defense, and we saw a lot of that in Game 1. Turnovers hurt and got Milwaukee out in transition, which gave them too many open 3s, but Antetokounmpo was controlled as well as he could be as a player. attacking downhill; Horford, in particular, was terrific defensively.

Boston therefore has reason to be optimistic. Tatum and Brown can shoot and play much better. Clean up unforced errors. It will probably be a long fight. But there’s no doubt that Lopez and the Milwaukee defense scored a first-round knockdown.


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