A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
BOSTON — In rewriting the expected script of tonight’s contest, the Boston Celtics were so close to rewriting the NBA record book.
Kyrie Irving led an onslaught from beyond the arc as the Celtics used the power of 24 three-pointers made — one shy of the NBA single-game record by a team — to down the previously unbeaten Milwaukee Bucks 117-113 in a nationally-televised treat of a game at TD Garden on Thursday.
The thrills that encapsulated the series these two teams engaged in during the first round of last year’s NBA Playoffs, one in which the Celtics were able to see off the Bucks in a seventh game in Boston, carried over to their first meeting this season, as the refrain “for threeeee” from the public address announcer turned into tonight’s soundtrack, as Gordon Hayward’s three on the Celtics’ first possession of the game turned out to be a harbinger of the long-range fusillade to come.
“Tonight, we didn’t settle as much,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We still had some possessions we’d like to have back, but I thought that we, you know, we took what the defense gave us. We got to the second side of the floor and we found open shooters.”
Given Milwaukee’s strategy of sagging its interior defenders well below the three-point line, Celtics shooters were open, and often. Boston attempted 14 threes in each of the first three quarters, making half of them in the second quarter to turn around a four-point deficit in the frame to take a slim lead into halftime at 55-53.
Boston was even more locked in from long range after halftime, making eight threes in opening up a 15-point lead on two occasions late in the quarter – both coming after back-to-back threes from Marcus Morris. By the end of the third quarter, Boston had made 20 three-pointers on its 42 attempts from deep. Or, put another way, the Celtics attempted just over one three per minute played. If that seems like a lot, it is, given that fact that the Bucks came into the game second in the league in three-pointers attempted at just over 40 per game.
According to some, however, maybe that number was not high enough.
“Never,” said Irving when asked if the team’s franchise-record 55 three-pointers tonight was too many. “Get ’em up. Get ’em up. They’re wide open, and if they’re going to play defense like that, then I don’t see why not.”
Milwaukee, who reached 7-0 for the second time in franchise history after defeating previously undefeated Toronto on Monday, came into the game leading the league with 15.6 made threes per game, but were cold all game long against one of the best three-point defenses in the league, going 9-for-29 from beyond the arc.
“Yeah, I’m frustrated, but I got to keep playing,” said Bucks guard Khris Middleton, who went just 3-of-10 from deep after making 54.9 percent from three coming into tonight. “There are going to be nights like that. I got to be better on the defensive side and just not worrying about scoring and shooting.”
Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who missed the Toronto game as he was in the league’s concussion protocol, was cleared to play tonight and scored a game-high 33 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter when the Bucks cut Boston’s lead to two with 1:45 remaining.
“I’m proud our guys fought through and found a way to get back into it, basically had several chances in the last minute or two to tie it up, but we weren’t able to get one of those layups to go. We can get better, we can play better, but credit to Boston tonight.”
Milwaukee had a chance to tie from the free throw line after Antetokounmpo stole the inbounds pass from Jayson Tatum and Eric Bledsoe was subsequently fouled by Tatum with 12.8 seconds left with the Bucks down 113-111. Bledsoe, however, missed the first free throw before making the second.
Irving and Al Horford each made two free throws in the final seconds to ice the game.
“Tonight, we didn’t have an A or B game, probably a C game, but we were still close to winning the game in Boston, one of the best teams in the East,” Antetokounmpo said.
Tonight marked the second time in Bucks franchise history that they stated 7-0 and, as Milwaukee had a similar start in the 1971-72 campaign. On both occasions, the Bucks then lost the eight game while in Boston.