In addition to being a matchup of the top two teams in the NBA, the Celtics’ game against the Bucks on Sunday also pitted two of the leading MVP candidates against each other.
And while the award certainly will not be won with a December performance, Celtics star Jayson Tatum got the better of Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Tatum made 14 of 22 shots and finished with 41 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, leading Boston to a commanding 139-118 win that stretched its lead in the Eastern Conference standings to 1½ games. Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, was held to 27 points and nine rebounds, and he was less impactful than those numbers indicate.
The Celtics swarmed the former MVP with multiple defenders and did well to force him to the perimeter, where Antetokounmpo’s not nearly as comfortable as he is when bulldozing toward the rim with a full head of steam.
Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla brushed off the notion that Boston had limited Milwaukee’s star, pointing out that 27 points is still plenty. But he was pleased with his team’s effort.
“We’re fortunate to have great matchups for him,” Mazzulla said. “And so between Al [Horford], Grant [Williams], Blake [Griffin], Malcolm [Brogdon], [Marcus] Smart, you know, our whole team, really, we’re fortunate to have the ability to throw some different guys at him.
“And I thought we were just disciplined in our execution, as far as 8 for 12 from the free throw line is solid, and I thought transition was solid. But he’s a great player and you got to be disciplined the whole game against him.”
Antetokounmpo’s frustration seemed to boil over late in the fourth quarter. With 3 minutes, 41 seconds left, he took exception to a screen set by Celtics forward Jaylen Brown. After falling to the floor, Antetokounmpo hopped up and shoved Brown, resulting in a technical foul.
Brogdon spent his first three seasons with the Bucks and played for Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer in the last one, in 2018-19.
Budenholzer said it’s no surprise that Brogdon has fit in seamlessly with the Celtics.
“He brings a toughness — a very quiet toughness — a strength on both ends of the court,” Budenholzer said. “His ability to drive and finish and put people on his shoulders is very unique and special. And defensively, his ability to keep people in front of him, again, put an arm-bar on you, keep you in front of him, not be moved, and things like that. Gets big shots, a lot of big shots. A great free-throw shooter, can facilitate passes. He’s a very good player. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Brogdon had 9 points in Boston’s win.
Arlington native Pat Connaughton received his first start of the season for Milwaukee with Khris Middleton still sidelined with a knee injury. Connaughton had 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists in front of his hometown crowd.