How Bucks’ elite defense stymied Jayson Tatum, Celtics’ offense in Game 1

BOSTON–The Celtics put on a defensive masterclass against Kevin Durant in their first-round series against the Nets, playing with a physical edge that threw Brooklyn’s superstar off his rhythm.

The Milwaukee Bucks flipped the script on Jayson Tatum and the Celtics on Sunday at TD Garden.

The defending champions limited Boston to just 89 points on 33% shooting to steal Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on the road. Tatum was the Celtics’ high scorer with 21 points but hit just 6 of 18 shots and 2 of his 11 2-point attempts.

Celtics-Bucks takeaways: C’s stifled by Milwaukee’s defense in Game 1 loss

No other Celtics player scored more than 12 points, and the C’s made just 10 2-point field goals as a team, the second-lowest mark in NBA playoff history.

You could chalk some of those numbers up to rust after a five-day layoff. But it also appeared Boston wasn’t ready for the Bucks’ aggressive, physical defense led by the 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo and the 7-foot Brook Lopez.

“To have 89 points and lack of penetration and paint points is obviously alarming. So, we’ve got to figure that out,” Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “We know who they are defensively, and I think their physicality more than anything caught us off guard.”

Boston mustered just 20 points in the paint compared to Milwaukee’s 34. Tatum’s drives often ended in dunks against Brooklyn in Round 1; against Milwaukee, a few ended with the ball in the stands.

Lopez and Antetokounmpo’s presence in the paint forced the Celtics to kick it out to the perimeter, where they made just 18 of their 50 3-point attempts (36%). While some were open looks, Udoka didn’t seem thrilled with how his team reacted to Milwaukee’s strong interior defense.

“We settled for some tougher 3-point shots. We’ve got to get downhill and get to the basket,” Udoka said. “… I didn’t think our rim reads were the best tonight. We know Lopez is back there, so we had some kickouts and some drop-offs that we could have made, and also some shots we missed by the basket. “

The Bucks also defended well on the perimeter, at times busting out a full-court press while getting into Tatum’s airspace much in the way Boston did with Durant last series.

“I think one thing is just crowd him,” Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said when asked about the key to defending Tatum. “… It’s not just me, it’s a team effort. I think to be able to funnel him and for him to see two or three guys, sometimes even four, it makes it (seem) like I’m doing something. But I’m really relying on my teammates a lot.”

That game plan had some success against Tatum, who admitted to feeling a bit disrupted in Game 1.

“I think they just kind of sped us up,” Tatum said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of just doing what we want to do and not letting them dictate that throughout the course of the game.”

The Celtics have been an elite offensive team since late January and averaged 113.5 points per game against Brooklyn in Round 1. They should shoot better than 33% in Game 2 and did get a few good looks in Game 1 that simply didn’t go down .

But after four games against one of the worst defensive teams in the playoffs, the Celtics got a rude awakening Sunday in the form of a Bucks defense that’s very long and more importantly can match Boston’s physicality.

“Gotta give them credit. They really came out and set the tone,” Celtics big man Al Horford said after the game. “It was one of those games that they let us play, which was great, and I definitely think we took a step back from the things that they were doing.”

How the Celtics respond to Milwaukee’s physicality in Game 2 on Tuesday night will go a long way toward their success in this series.

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