Celtics vs. Bucks observations: C's no match for East's elites

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Justin Leger
·4 min read
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Celtics-Bucks observations: C's no match for East's elites originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics made the Milwaukee Bucks sweat after going down 25 points in Wednesday night's matchup, but they were unable to complete the comeback.

Daniel Theis missed the wide-open 3-pointer with one second remaining that would have won the game for the C's, and Boston fell 121-119. The Bucks supporting cast stepped up in a big way as superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was limited to only 13 points. Khris Middleton, a regular thorn in the Celtics' side, led the way for Milwaukee with 27 points and 13 rebounds.

Highlights: C's limit Giannis, still lose to Bucks

The C's fall to 21-23 on the season after losing the sixth of their last eight games. Here are three quick observations from their latest defeat.

1. Celtics are no match for the Eastern Conference elites

The entire first half perfectly summed up why the Celtics aren't in the same stratosphere as the top teams in the East right now. Zero chemistry, a lack of defensive energy, and little help from the supporting cast put the C's in a 25-point hole even while the other team's superstar was mostly a non-factor.

After this loss, the Celtics now are 2-7 on the campaign against the current top four teams in the East (Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Bucks, Atlanta Hawks). Those two wins came on Opening Night vs. Milwaukee on a miraculous Jayson Tatum game-winner, and on Feb. 19 vs. Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the Bucks have won eight straight games are looking like the elite team they've been the last few years.

The way the C's have been playing compared to their Eastern Conference foes, it's fair to wonder whether a deal at the deadline for Aaron Gordon or another complementary piece would even be worth the expense at this point.

2. Defensive effort goes a long way

The Celtics looked like a completely different team in the second half of this one. After trailing by 25, they stormed back to cut the deficit to two and had a real chance to steal the victory. They can credit their second-half defense for that as they limited the Bucks to 51 points after a putrid first half in which they allowed them to drop 70.

If the C's kept that same energy from the jump, there would have been a much different result. Just ask ex-Celtics big man Kendrick Perkins what he thought of Boston's first-half effort.

Actually, no need to ask him. He made his thoughts on the matter crystal clear during the game:

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The truth hurts.

Perhaps the C's will be able to carry their second-half defensive effort into Friday's rematch in Milwaukee. They better hope so, otherwise it'll be another long night.

3. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown need the ball in crunch time

This should go without saying, but for whatever reason the C's didn't get the memo on Wednesday night.

After Jaylen Brown drilled a clutch 3-pointer with 1:32 left to cut the Bucks lead to two, Tatum didn't touch the ball and Brown only did once on a rebound with 39 seconds left.

Marcus Smart, who finished 3-for-13 from the field and 2-for-10 from beyond the arc, was the one dominating the ball late in the fourth and attempting the go-ahead 3 with 1:06 remaining. That can't happen, and this time it may have cost the C's a comeback victory.

Brown finished with a team-high 24 points. Tatum struggled for most of the game, but got hot in the second half and tallied 18 points in his return to the lineup.

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Next up for the Celtics is a rematch with Milwaukee on Friday night. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.