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A really good rookie had the final say in Celtics’ loss

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 32 points.Barry Chin/Globe staff

As Celtics coach Brad Stevens sat in a chair and completed his postgame interview session after his team’s 103-100 loss to the Bucks on Wednesday, he was asked about Milwaukee’s rookie, Malcolm Brogdon, who had capped a magnificent night by draining a daring 16-footer in the final seconds. Stevens paused.

“He’s not a rookie,” he said, before repeating the statement for emphasis. “He’s not a rookie. And I say that with complete respect to him. Like, that guy, he knows how to play. He’s known how to play for a long time.”

Brogdon is, in fact, a rookie. But Stevens’s point was that he is not a greenhorn teenager who is learning the NBA just a couple years after learning how to drive. Brogdon is 24, and on the court he shows the poise of a player his age, a player who somehow slipped to the 36th pick in last June’s draft.

After spending much of Wednesday night carving through the Celtics’ defense with gritty drives to the basket, Brogdon silenced a rowdy Boston crowd with one perfect shot. His team was clinging to a 1-point lead with eight seconds left in the game and about three seconds left on the shot clock.


Bucks rookie Malcolm Brogdon sinks a pivotal shot over Avery Bradley in the fourth quarter of Milwaukee’s 103-100 victory over the Celtics Wednesday night at TD Garden.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

And to make the scenario even more challenging, Brogdon was being defended by Avery Bradley, who can all but attach himself to opposing ball-handlers.

“He’s not a guy that bites much,” Brogdon said of Bradley. “You’ve got to make up your mind, and go at him.”

Brogdon took one high and nearly errant dribble to his right before gathering himself with another one.

With one second left on the shot clock, and with Bradley smothering him, he rose and drilled a fadeaway 16-footer that splashed through the net with 3.9 seconds remaining.

“I don’t even think he thought it was going in,” Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas said. “We played pretty good defense, and it was a shot he had to shoot.”


The Celtics had a final chance to tie the game. After a timeout, Marcus Smart looked to inbound the ball from the left sideline to Thomas. But his pass was deflected by Milwaukee big man Greg Monroe.

Thomas could reach the ball, but he would not have enough time or space to gather it, so he tapped it to Smart. But his heave just before the buzzer fell well short of the rim, and the Celtics’ seven-game home winning streak was snapped.

“They do a really good job of switching things in that scenario; they’re big and long,” Stevens said of the Bucks. “It’s hard to get a good look on the first sight of the floor against them anyways. So, you know, we try to have multiple actions going, but they were really physical guarding us and we didn’t get the ball. We didn’t get a good shot.”

So just two days after the Celtics took sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2011, they are now in a virtual tie with the Cavaliers, who actually lead by a few percentage points because they have played two fewer games.

In an odd way, Wednesday’s loss could ultimately prove beneficial to the Celtics. The Bucks are one of five teams that are in the mix to become the Celtics’ first-round playoff opponent, and this win kept Milwaukee tied with the Hawks for the No. 5 spot.


The Celtics’ first game against the Bucks this season went to overtime, and now their second ended with an even more concerning result, so Boston would probably be happy to see them stay out of their way.

“They’re an awkward team to play against, because they defend a little differently,” Celtics forward Al Horford said. “They have a lot of length. [But] it’s just one game. I don’t think we can react too much to it.”

Thomas had 32 points to lead the Celtics, who out-rebounded the longer and taller Bucks, 42-35.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 22 points and 9 rebounds and Brogdon added 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, and 9 assists.

“It’s huge to do it against this caliber of team, at their home,” Brogdon said of the Celtics “It’s a huge boost in confidence.”

Boston, MA - 3/29/2017 - (4th quarter) A disappointed Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) walks away from the Milwaukee Bucks celebration after the Celtics fell 103-100 to the Bucks. The Boston Celtics host the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden. - (Barry Chin/Globe Staff), Section: Sports, Reporter: Adam Himmelsbach, Topic: 30Celtics-Bucks, LOID: 8.3.2043907042.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Despite their length, the Bucks are a below-average rebounding team, just like the Celtics. And Boston pummeled Milwaukee with offensive rebounds in the third quarter, gathering 8 of its 16 missed shots. Still, the Bucks went to the fourth with an 80-77 lead.

With 4:46 left and the Bucks leading, 92-87, Smart and Antetokounmpo tangled. Although Antetotkounmpo was called for a foul, the play was reviewed and Smart was then hit with a flagrant foul, apparently for grabbing Antetotkounmpo’s foot.

That gave the Bucks free throws as well as the ball, as they extended their lead to 93-87. But the Celtics responded with a 6-0 burst after the little incident, as a Smart layup tied the score at 93. But the Celtics were unable to finish.


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.