scorecardresearch Skip to main content
celtics 117, bucks 103

A lesson in what’s been going wrong helped the Celtics get things right

Jayson Tatum drives past Bucks guard Pat Connaughton Monday night at TD Garden.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Bucks big man Bobby Portis and Celtics forward Grant Williams were battling in the post in the third quarter Monday night when Portis used two hands to essentially throw Williams to the ground.

Portis is one of the league’s more fearsome players but Williams did not care, and he did not back down. He immediately bounced up and into Portis’s face before the two were separated and hit with technical fouls.

After Boston returned from a frustrating 1-4 road trip, coach Ime Udoka showed the team nearly 100 clips of where things had gone wrong, and the common theme was a lack of toughness, physicality, and intensity.


In this game, for one night at least, the message appeared to be received, and Williams’s response was one prime example during Boston’s 117-103 win over the defending champions at TD Garden.

“I’d rather put somebody on their [butt] or get into it than let someone go down the lane,” Udoka said. “We knew Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and certain guys were going to be aggressive tonight, and we needed to fight back and get back to who we were at the start of the year. I welcome that at all times.”

And the return of Jaylen Brown, who had missed the last five games — and 13 of the last 18 — because of a hamstring injury, did not hurt, either. Yes, this Boston team is deeper than some of its predecessors, but depth does not make up for the absence of an All-Star.

Brown looked healthy and rejuvenated and finished with 19 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds in 30 minutes.

“I felt like myself, being able to move and cut and jump when I wanted to,” he said. “I’m grateful that I’m able to do that.”

Brown’s mere presence made it more difficult for Milwaukee to craft an entire defensive plan around stopping Jayson Tatum, who took advantage of the extra space and erupted for 42 points on 16-of-25 shooting.


Part of Udoka’s message about toughness and competitiveness this week was directed at Tatum. Udoka shared stories about when he was Kawhi Leonard’s teammate on the Spurs when Leonard was a rookie, and he told Leonard it can be dangerous to respect opponents too much.

Ime Udoka talks with Robert Williams III during the first half of Monday's win over Milwaukee.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

He wanted to see more of the fiery, competitive side from Leonard then, just as he does from Tatum now. This 42-point explosion isn’t necessarily an example of Tatum’s renewed fire, but it’ll be classified as one for now.

“You want to respect everybody in the game,” Tatum said, “but, you know, go out there and put your imprint on it and be who you’re supposed to be, and that’s basically what he was advocating for me to do.”

The Celtics also received a boost from Williams, whose improbable 3-point barrage continued. He connected on 5 of 7 attempts from long range and scored 17 points. He is now shooting 45.3 percent from beyond the arc this season, a seismic turnaround for a player who started his career two seasons ago by missing 25 3-pointers in a row.

“Grant’s shooting the lights out — don’t let him hear that,” Tatum quipped. “But, no, he’s put in so much work to develop and to be a guy that can guard and space the floor. It’s night and day from when he first came into the league, and somebody we can really depend and rely on to knock down open shots and just space the floor.”


Grant Williams hit five three-pointers in Monday's game.Adam Glanzman/Getty

The Bucks held a 9-point lead with under five minutes left in the second quarter before Williams checked in and gave Boston’s offense a jolt by drilling three 3-pointers, sending Boston to a 51-50 lead at the break.

The Celtics never trailed again, and stretched their lead to as many as 18 in the fourth quarter.

Boston mostly held Antetokounmpo in check behind the strong defense of Al Horford. Even though Antetokounmpo finished with 20 points, he never seized control of the game and Milwaukee was outscored by 19 points with him on the court.

On offense, the Celtics moved the ball with precision and purpose and finished with 31 assists on 43 made baskets. They made 50 percent of their shots and 42.6 percent of their 3-pointers. The team believed Brown’s presence made much of it possible.

The Celtics ran a play for Brown on their first possession and he calmly caught a pass at the right arc and drilled an open 3-pointer. He ignited several fast breaks after that and looked comfortable with the ball in his hands. And as the Bucks shaded in his direction, Tatum was happy to finally get some space to operate in, and happy to make Milwaukee pay.

“You can see the crowd [around Tatum] when [Brown] is on the floor and when he’s not,” Udoka said. “It’s pretty apparent there. So what he brings to the team, another superstar elite scorer, and teams can’t load up as much. it’s pretty apparent what he does, and good to have him back.”


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.