The Celtics had their chances in Game 3 against the Bucks on Saturday.
There was possession with about a minute remaining when they led by one and missed two wide-open 3-pointers – one each by Al Horford and Marcus Smart – which would have forced the Bucks to consider some form of offense other than shooting. by Giannis Antetokounmpo. Down the lane. They almost regained the lead when Jaylen Brown beat his man to the basket, but Brown smoked an admittedly tough (but doable) layup. They almost got three free throws when Smart did this (officials only gave him two).
And then, in the last seconds, they almost equal the game (again).
In the end, the Celtics couldn’t overcome Jayson Tatum’s 4-for-19 shooting performance, and they couldn’t overcome Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 42 points.
After a game like that, it’s easy to project a Celtics win assuming Tatum doesn’t continue to shoot so poorly and assuming Antetokounmpo doesn’t score 42 more points. The problem with the playoffs, however, is that the Celtics are now on the brink. Sure, Tatum probably won’t shoot 4-for-19 anymore, but the Celtics have no margin for error.
2. Ime Udoka appeared to decide that criticizing the officials’ decision not to award Smart three free throws was well worth a fine.
“It was a foul,” Udoka said. “He caught the ball, he was spinning in his shot, both feet planted. You can’t tell it’s a sweep when you go for a shot. Bad call, bad no-call.
“You can clearly see it. I saw it in person, but also in the cinema. I just went to see. It’s a hit. He curls up in the shot, he is the victim of a fault on the way up. Bad missed call.
Udoka is almost certainly right – there’s very little (if any) sweeping movement on Smart’s shot. Smart certainly seemed to be anticipating the Bucks planning to foul and trying to take advantage of it, but if a team is going to take advantage by fouling three, the opposing team should probably be allowed to sneak in with them.
3. The Celtics had a chance thanks to Al Horford, who fired a series of crucial shots down the stretch as they rallied. With Grant Williams at fault and Rob Williams sidelined after being shot in the head, Horford was excellent in a more featured role. He finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds in Game 3.
4. The Celtics need to avoid letting Brown pass Antetokounmpo, which is how the Bucks star got many of his easiest points in the fourth quarter. Brown had a great game and was crucial down the stretch as Tatum struggled to find his shot, but Antetokounmpo is too tall and his strides are too long. Brown and Tatum struggle mightily every time Antetokounmpo manages to force a switch – whether because they lack the physical mass to stop him, or because Antetokounmpo’s impulses are violent and the Celtics have asked their stars to get out of the way is a bit clear.
5. Wes Matthews played phenomenal defense against Tatum, but the Celtics need to find a way to launch their own superstar. As good as Matthews is defensively, the Celtics need more Tatum to stand a chance.
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