Kelly Olynyk puts home a reverse dunk during Saturday’s victory over the Bucks. (Benny Sieu/USA Today Sports)
The Celtics looked poised to run away with Saturday night’s game early. It didn’t happen, as the Bucks clawed back in the second half.
Then in overtime the C’s scored the first six points and appeared ready to break the Bucks. Again, no such luck.
This one was going to take some heart and some defense, and the Celtics managed to come up with both, taking a 112-108 victory in Milwaukee that moved Boston into a tie for the Atlantic Division lead with the Raptors at 29-18.
Playing without starters Al Horford (groin) and Avery Bradley (Achilles) — and playing in Wisconsin one night after routing the Magic in Boston — the Celtics found a way to pull out the win after squandering a 16-point lead.
“Coming here without Al and without Avery — they’re on the second night of a back-to-back, too, that’s just the way the scheduled worked itself out,” C’s coach Brad Stevens said in his postgame press conference. “As we said when we got beat a couple of times when teams were coming off back-to-back and we had rest, some of that stuff’s unpredictable. You just play as hard as you can and as well as you can. Hopefully things work out for you. I thought we played pretty darn well, to be honest. Defensively in the overtime I thought we were excellent.”
One night after scoring 39 in the opening quarter against the Magic, the Celtics tallied 42 in the opening 12 minutes against the Bucks. They shot 63 percent, capping the period with a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Gerald Green. The lead was 15 after one and peaked at 16 in the second quarter.
For a team that struggled in the first quarter earlier this season, it’s quite a turnaround for the C’s.
“How we started the game really dictated the whole game for sure,” Jae Crowder told CSNNE’s Abby Chin after scoring 20 points. “We put those guys on their heels. We showed how to execute down the stretch because we started off the game so well. It got us the win tonight.”
Milwaukee battled back and had its chances to come away with a win down the stretch, but Isaiah Thomas and friends made sure that would not happen. Thomas finished with 37 points and eight assists to lead the offense. Meanwhile, Amir Johnson came up with a couple of huge plays in overtime — one an offensive rebound, and the other at the defensive end, when he slid over and helped prevent Giannis Antetokounmpo from tying the game.
The Celtics started the overtime on a 6-0 run on baskets from Marcus Smart, Johnson and Kelly Olynyk (who took an elbow to the head on his dunk but did not get the benefit of a call).
“We wanted to hit first,” Crowder said. “We wanted to be the aggressor in the overtime. We wanted to make the first run. And that’s what happened. And once we did that we had control of the overtime game, so it was in our favor.”
Tony Snell came back with a pair of 3-pointers in a 33-second span to the tie with game with just over a minute remaining, but that would be the hosts’ final points.
After the teams traded misses, Thomas missed a layup but Johnson hauled in the rebound to keep the possession alive. Four seconds later, Crowder was fouled and he hit a pair of free throws for the lead. At the other end, the Bucks went to Antetokounmpo, their young star, and he went to work on Olynyk before Johnson moved over to block his path and force a tough shot in the lane. Crowder got the rebound, was fouled and hit two from the line for the final tally.
“Everybody had to make plays for us to win, on offense and defense,” Stevens said. “I thought the lift that Amir Johnson gave us in overtime was excellent.”
Said Olynyk: “We were going to do whatever it took to get the ‘W’ tonight.”