BOSTON — Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and coach Adrian Griffin appeared to have a heated exchange when Antetokounmpo checked out of Wednesday’s game midway through the third quarter, but neither had much to say about it following the Bucks’ 119-116 loss to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.
“He wanted to stay in, I wanted to give him a breather. That’s all it was,” Griffin said afterward. “And then I told him to stay at the table for one possession, and he got right back out there.”
Antetokounmpo gave a one-word response when asked for an explanation of what took place:
The exchange happened with 5 minutes, 58 seconds left in the third quarter, after Antetokounmpo had been called for a carrying violation. As he began walking to the other end of the court, he looked at the Bucks bench and shook his head, and then appeared upset that Bobby Portis was checking in for him.
Antetokounmpo then sat on the scorer’s table and had an extended discussion with Griffin, one that ended with Antetokounmpo coming back into the game at the next dead ball.
Regardless of what happened between Antetokounmpo and Griffin, what happened on the court was easy for all to see. The Celtics jumped to a 10-0 lead and never looked back, leading wire to wire. They controlled the game for the first 44 minutes before allowing Milwaukee to come roaring back, as the Celtics tend to do down the stretch in games.
Boston, which is now an NBA-best 12-3, led by as many as 21 and shot 17-for-42 from 3-point range. Jaylen Brown had his best game of the season, scoring 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting to go along with 8 assists and just 1 turnover.
“I feel like I’ve been doing it all season long,” Brown said of his playmaking. “Definitely just another part of my game that I’ve been growing. This is a new year, it’s a new season, and I feel like I’m playing some of my best basketball just how I’m seeing the floor. And as I get into the flow and the rhythm of things, I feel like I’ll be able to continue to do that. I think when I get going, more guys playing off me, trusting that I’m going to make the right read, I think we should go to that a lot more.”
Most important for Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla was that he was happy with his team’s effort. He had been openly critical of his players’ lack of focus in Sunday’s win in Memphis and Monday’s loss in Charlotte.
For the most part, that wasn’t the case Wednesday night, as the Celtics immediately pounced on their biggest rival and didn’t let up for most of the game. And while Milwaukee outscored Boston 37-25 in the fourth and turned what had been a comfortable lead into a one-possession game inside the final minute, Mazzulla was satisfied with the performance.
“I was definitely impressed with our mindset,” Mazzulla said. “It’s something we’ve got to fight to keep all the time. But I thought tonight we got our effort back, like real effort. Like, our grit, toughness, and I thought we got our connectivity back on the offensive end where it was like every time someone touched the ball, they were ready to make a play or make a shot.
“I thought the ball had a different type of energy tonight. So we’ve just got to fight for that. I know it’s a long year, but the more we can do that and complement each other, I think the more dangerous we can be.”
Wednesday also marked Jrue Holiday‘s first game against the Bucks since they traded him for Damian Lillard just before the start of the season, paving the way for the Celtics to acquire him from the Portland Trail Blazers a few days later.
Holiday struggled offensively, going 1-for-8 with just one assist and two turnovers. But he still played a crucial role, as he spent the game guarding Antetokounmpo, who finished 7-for-20 shooting en route to 21 points.
“I haven’t seen that in a long time,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton, who played a season-high 28 minutes, said with a smile afterward. “But you know, that’s what he does. He’s all over the place guarding different matchups, matchups you didn’t think he would guard or should guard. But that’s how talented that guy is.”
While Holiday didn’t speak to reporters afterward, Lillard did after playing in his first game in this long-standing rivalry. While he understood the importance of Wednesday’s game, Lillard said both sides know there is plenty of basketball left to be played.
“We were fighting to make it a game, and then once we did, you usually don’t get over the hump like that,” said Lillard, who scored 27 points. “They played a game that they deserved to win, and we didn’t.”