Agony, pain for Boston Celtics amid Game 3 struggles on offense

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Pain, physical and mental, hounded the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Struggles were abound on offense for the Celtics all night. It was a physical game, with a 1st-half reminiscent of games in the NBA in the mid-to-late 1990s. Bodies were flying all game. Words were heated on occasion. Struggles on offense, highlighted by Jayson Tatum, were nearly overcome with a valiant fourth quarter effort.

In the end, one-tenth of second separated what could have been an overtime game instead of a 103-101 Milwaukee victory and a 2-1 series lead for the Bucks.

Nothing smooth for the Boston Celtics

Clear and simple fact is that the Boston Celtics aren’t going to win many games with performances like they one they got out of Tatum on Saturday afternoon. Tatum’s defense was on the bright side, with four blocks and a steal. But everything else seemed to plague the young superstar in Game 3.

A 4-19 performance from the field is enough to frustrate anyone and it was evident Tatum clearly was. Milwaukee’s defense did it’s job against Tatum. Nothing came easy as he was bumped, prodded, and dinged by the Bucks all game.

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Game 3 was also one of those game’s that Tatum didn’t get some calls early and it set the tone for where he was at mentally the rest of the game. He was right to get emotional with the lack of calls, but it got to him and affected his play, at least for stretches. The more he missed shots, the more his body language — again, at times — gave indication of his frustration and Tatum appeared to not be in a good mental rhythm.

That being said, he’s always been great about bouncing back from games like this. And for Boston to only lose by two despite Tatum’s struggles shows the depth of what the Celtics can do. Derrick White put up his best game on offense of the series, and two starters did all they could in helping Boston try to steal back homecourt advantage.

Boston Celtics: The Jaylen Brown, Al Horford show

Struggles did not escape Jaylen Brown in this game, though he was steadier throughout. He scored 15 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, powering the Celtics comeback.

Brown was exceptional getting to the line, hitting 10-11 from the charity stripe, and he shot 50 percent from the field. He did miss four of five from three-point range after going 6-10 in Game 2. While an impressive percentage in Game 2 from deep, I much prefer the Game 3 Brown in which those shots from deep are limited to five to eight per game.

He did have four turnovers, part of Boston’s 12 on the night. Not a horrible number, until factored in that seven of those Boston turnovers occurred in the third quarter. There was also 12 rebounds on the night for Brown. He was joined in the double-double department by Al Horford.

Horford has been simply outstanding in these playoffs, especially the three games of the conference semifinals. He came out hot in the first round against the Brooklyn Nets in the first two games before cooling off. But Horford has upped the ante again against the Bucks.

The Celtics desperately needed him to be successful in these playoffs and Horford has responded. He had 22 points and 16 rebounds in Game 3, marking his third double-double of the series. He’s averaging 15 points and 12.3 rebounds against Milwaukee, while also blocking five shots.

Unfortunately for Boston, Giannis Antetokounmpo ended up stealing the show on Saturday. Antetokounmpo nearly pulled off another triple-double, finishing with 42 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists. The Bucks duo of him and Jrue Holiday (25 pts) combined for 67 points on 60 field goal attempts.

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In the end, victory was decided by one superstar rising to an all-elite level while one team’s superstar faded away. Expect better from Tatum in Game 4, where all eyes will be on his ability to bounce back. If he does, all will be well and this series will be tied at two games apiece. If not, the Celtics could find themselves deeper in agony, and a hole they might not be able to dig out from.