MILWAUKEE — When the Celtics took a shot at the struggling and shorthanded Wizards on Tuesday night, their concern level afterward was pretty low. For a long season they insisted that one day was a sleepless night and that it would not be late.
But they weren’t in full control of that opportunity Thursday night when they took on the Bucks, the top team in the NBA, on the road. Then it started, and it became clear that their new beginning had arrived.
Behind Jayson Tatum (40 points) and Jaylen Brown (30 points), the Celtics looked like title contenders, going as far as 44 points before finishing with a 140-99 win, erasing the full-strength Bucks from all angles. .
Brown scored 17 of his 30 points in the first quarter and Tatum dominated the next two, scoring 33 of his 40 points. .
Even with the win, the Celtics are just five games behind the first-place Bucks, two games away. But this win secured the points gap for Boston. And, if nothing else, it provided some evidence that winning a road playoff game or two isn’t necessarily difficult.
Comments from the game:
⋅ Brown, Tatum and Al Horford helped the Celtics start the opening minutes from beyond the arc, a stark contrast from the previous game when Boston was 11 for 44 from long range. The hot-shot confidence was especially evident on this team, and it really swelled for the rest of the first half. Horford, whose job is primarily to catch and shoot from the corner, took a few more shots over the break. Tatum hits solid sidestep and backhand attempts. Brown, Tatum and Horford combined to go 11 for 15 from beyond the arc in the first half. When that happens, nobody beats this team.
⋅ Brown started it all for the Celtics while the others were just getting warmed up. He exploded for 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the first quarter, mixing long-range darts with slick drives that led to a tough but mid-range layup. Brown won’t be playing without that protective mask anytime soon.
⋅ 3-point shooting was great, but that comes and goes. But the Bucks should be more disturbed by the action in the paint. Celtics like Brown, Tatum and Malcolm Brogdon had little trouble getting past Milwaukee’s slower defenders like Grayson Allen, Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder. The Celtics will look to capitalize on these opportunities more often in the playoffs.
⋅ Horford and Robert Williams have yet to play in back-to-back games this season as the Celtics prioritize their health. But both were active for Thursday’s game. Maybe it’s because the Celtics want to watch their full lineup against Milwaukee. Maybe they believe they can beat the Jazz without both players. Or maybe, with the No. 1 seed still within reach, they’ll get away with it. Horford would be amazing if he played with the Jazz, but Robert Williams might have a shot.
⋅ Robert Williams was good in the first half on Thursday. The Celtics didn’t rebound offensively in the first quarter – in part because they didn’t pass many shots – but in the second, Williams picked up four and disrupted a Milwaukee defense that was having enough trouble keeping up with the Celtics. ‘Attack.
⋅ The Celtics have had some problems since the All-Star break, with a 28-point blowout by the Nets being the most striking example. But it became clear that there will be no such issues in this game. Boston took a 75-47 halftime lead, and the offense was even more dominant in the third quarter. Tatum made all six of his three-pointers, all four of his 3-pointers and 18 points, and Boston shot 76.2 percent as a team.
⋅ Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer waved the white flag with minutes left in the third, and Celtics coach Joe Mazzula left his starters out for the duration despite a 44-point lead and a game against the Jazz on Friday.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter. @adamhimmelsbach.