Boston Celtics need to get to the paint against the Milwaukee Bucks

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics Game 1 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks was concerning for quite a few reasons. After watching the team control the proceedings against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, the Bucks came out and promptly flipped the script on them this time around.

The Bucks have depth all around their star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo on both sides of the ball, and they used it to perfection in Game 1. Antetokounmpo shot an inefficient 9-25 from the field, but it didn’t matter because he picked up 12 assists along the way. It felt like every time the Celtics doubled Giannis, he kicked the ball out to the perimeter for a wide open three.

But defensively, Boston was still pretty solid. They kept Antetokounmpo in check, and it’s not like 101 points is an outrageous total to allow. The bigger problem is on the offensive side of things, where the C’s only managed to score 89 points, and spent most of the game shooting three point shots whether they were open or not. The Celtics are going to have to radically change their offensive approach, and fast, if they want any shot of staying with the Bucks in this series.

The Boston Celtics need to get into the paint against the Milwaukee Bucks

Boston took 84 shots from the field in Game 1. 50 of them came from behind the arc. The Bucks love to protect the paint, but they took things to a new level in the opening game of this series, and now it’s time for the C’s to adjust.

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For most of the game, the Celtics looked lost offensively. Jayson Tatum led the way with 21 points, but he never got looks consistently. Jaylen Brown was downright horrible in every phase of the game, and he’s going to need to figure things out by the time Game 2 arrives. Marcus Smart couldn’t seem to get anything to fall this afternoon too. It was just an overall ugly offensive performance from Boston.

But that’s what happens when you play Milwaukee. They always have Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, and Antetokounmpo roaming around towards the baseline protecting the paint. It worked against the Chicago Bulls in their first round series, and it worked in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics.

The problem is the Celtics made virtually no effort to force the issue and take the rock to the paint against Milwaukee. They spent most of the game aimlessly passing the ball around the perimeter hoping a three point shot would open up. And while most of their threes weren’t forced by any means, this team just isn’t going to hit threes at a super high rate, and that’s a gamble the Bucks were willing to take.

That’s not going to change in Game 2, and it’s going to be up to coach Ime Udoka to figure out how to free up the paint for his players. They tried hunting mismatches with screens and freeing up rollers to the paint, but Milwaukee was having none of it. They were content to let Boston shoot, and for at least this game, it worked.

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One of the main issues that caused this was that Tatum was spending way too much time attempting to initiate the offense in this game when he was the only guy that had anything going. Smart is going to have to be the one running things this series, simply because Milwaukee puts so much attention on the ball. By having Tatum play off ball, more shots will open up for him.

Another problem that stuck out was how uninvolved Robert Williams was on offense. He only had six points in this one, but his vertical presence gives Boston an avenue to open up space in the paint with pick and rolls. If you have him screen for Smart then roll to the paint, and Smart attacks the paint, that’s going to force the issue for the Bucks. If they cover both Smart and Williams, that leaves a shooter open. If they stay put, Williams or Smart gets open in the paint.

This is an action that, even if it doesn’t generate space in the paint, needs to be incorporated in Game 2. If Boston sits at the perimeter and just passes, hoping to find an open look, it’s not going to happen. Driving and kicking is what Udoka wanted to do coming into this series, and when the team actually did it in Game 1, it generated open looks.

The Boston Celtics have decent perimeter players, and they will generally play better than they did today. But counting on them to hit every three is a risky proposition, and one Boston probably can’t use to survive this series. They are going to have to create some sort of open looks in the paint at one point or another. Tatum and Brown get a lot of their points inside the arc, and not being able to get any sort of space there today killed them.

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It’s just one game, but this felt like a wake up call for the Boston Celtics. They were able to get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted against the Nets last series, and that’s just not going to be a possibility against a stout Milwaukee team. It’s very early, yes, but it’s not a stretch to say that Game 2 is a must win for the C’s now. If they can get things going in the paint, they should be able to even up the series.