Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks began the season restart in Orlando on the right foot, with a competitive 119-112 win over a resilient Celtics squad.
Despite playing without key rotation players in Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton, the East's best team raced to an early 15-point lead with a 17-2 run in the first 3:40 minutes of the game, but the Celtics battled and made it a back-and-forth battle for a majority of the second half.
It took a late 12-5 run over the final 1:30 minutes of the game, for the Bucks to seal this one.
Here are five takeaways from this entertaining contest between two of the East's best:
The Greek Freak shows no rust
Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo showed no signs of rust through the three scrimmage games and he seems to have carried over that form into the seeding games.
Coming into the seeding games, he averaged 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 5.7 assists. In the Bucks' first scrimmage game against the Celtics, he finished with even better numbers.
Domination by The Greek Freak. pic.twitter.com/DDeRA6R8RD- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) August 1, 2020
In just 32 minutes of action, Giannis finished with 36 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists on 14-of-20 shooting. and a game-high plus-18 in the box score. This was Antetokounmpo's 14th 30-15-7 game this season, three more than the rest of the league has combined.
Sixteen of those 36 points came in the final quarter on 7-of-8 shooting.
Jayson Tatum's struggles continue
Rust has been an issue for the Celtics All-Star forward since arriving to Orlando, as he shot 30.4% in the two scrimmage games that he appeared in.
This trend continued against the Bucks, as he finished with just five points on 2-for-18 shooting (11.1%) from the field in 32 minutes of action. It's the second-worst shooting performance of the season for Tatum, who needs to get going in order for Boston to have any chance for long-term success in Orlando; the C's are now 5-11 this season when the 22-year-old scores 17 or less.
That the Celtics had opportunities to win despite Tatum's performance should bode well moving forward. These shooting struggles shouldn't persist forever and he'll eventually find his stride. If that development comes along with Kemba Walker getting his legs under him, Boston has the potential to make a postseason run.
The Playoff Picture
There wasn't much doubt that the Bucks would hold on to the East's top seed, but they further cemented their hold on the top spot with the win, building a seven-game lead over the Toronto Raptors in the standings.
Sitting on the other side of the Raptors are the Celtics, who entered the restart with an outside shot to overtake the East's second seed. Boston still has a chance to move up to No. 2 but it'll be even harder now, as it now trails Toronto by 3.5 games in the standings with seven games to play. The two teams meet next week which is an opportunity for the Celtics to move back up, but the Raptors are closer to clinching the second seed for a second-straight year.
With respect to matchups, seeding is increasingly important in a year where home-court advantage won't be a factor.
Celtics bench duo comes to play
With Kemba Walker playing limited minutes and Jayson Tatum's shooting struggles, the Celtics needed someone to step up to make this game competitive. A couple of players in Marcus Smart and Brad Wanamaker came off the bench to rise up to the challenge.
Marcus being Marcus- Boston Celtics (@celtics) July 31, 2020
Smart finished with a team-high 23 points (7-11 FGs; 3-6 3Ps) while Wanamaker did a little bit of everything, finishing with 14 points (5-9 FGs), six rebounds, and two steals.
"Some of our best possessions of the night were when he was on the court," Brad Stevens said of Brad Wanamaker after the game.
Of the nine Celtics players that saw respectable floor time, the duo were the only ones to finish with a positive +/-. Smart was a plus-three in 32 minutes while Wanamaker was plus-nine in 26 minutes.
Kemba Walker's road to recovery
Nursing a knee injury, Walker saw limited court action in this one. Walker said it was frustrating dealing with this 'nagging' injury, one that's impacted his court availability since January.
In this game, he looked good, finishing with 16 points (5-9 FGs; 3-6 3Ps) in 19 minutes. "I'm feeling good. Looking forward to tomorrow's practice," Walker said postgame.
It'll be interesting to see how his court time progresses through the seeding games, as a build-up to the playoffs.
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