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Celtics notebook

Celtics’ top-ranked defense hasn’t showed up in the playoffs

Giannis Antetokounmpo is difficult to stop at the rim — ask Aron Baynes — and in Game 3 Friday he shot well from the outside, too. Jim Davis/ Globe staff

MILWAUKEE — The Celtics had the top-ranked defense in the NBA during the regular season. They were a versatile, gritty, screen-switching group that typically turned games into a chore for opposing offenses.

Players had openly talked about clamping down even more now that the playoffs have arrived. But during this opening-round series against the Bucks, especially in the last two games, that certainly has not happened.

The Celtics, who had a league-leading defensive rating of 101.5 during the regular season, are allowing 114 points per 100 possessions to the Bucks in the playoffs, the 14th worst mark out of the 16 playoff teams entering Saturday.


In Game 2, Milwaukee made 59.7 percent of its shots, and in Game 3, it converted 57 percent. Those are the two highest field goal percentages Boston has allowed this season.

In fact, over 82 regular-season games, just three teams shot better than 50 percent from the field against the Celtics. Five teams shot exactly 50 percent. And the Celtics’ record in those eight games was 0-8. So perhaps the Celtics are fortunate that they hold a 2-1 lead in this series, despite Milwaukee’s commanding 116-92 Game 3 win on Friday night.

Regardless, if this trend does not shift, Boston probably will struggle to advance to the next round.

“All in all I’d say we guarded with much more purpose in Game 1 and a lot better than we did in Game 2, and that was because of transition,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Saturday. “And in Game 3 I didn’t think we did anything particularly well, but I thought [our poor defense] was largely due to the fact that our offense put us in some tough spots.”

The Celtics could have some tough decisions to make Sunday. In Game 3, Milwaukee received an unlikely burst of long-range shooting from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker. The two lanky big men, who combined to make 74 of 244 3-pointers during the regular season (30.3 percent), teamed up to hit 6 of 8 from beyond the arc.


Antetokounmpo is one of the game’s most dangerous players when he is attacking the rim, so the Celtics typically would prefer him to be firing away from distance. Meanwhile, by spotting up outside the arc, Maker helps clear the lane for players such as Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe.

But Stevens made it clear that his team cannot simply cede wide-open shots to anyone, regardless of how low their 3-point percentages might be.

“I think we have to do a great job of challenging [Maker’s] shots,” he said. “At the end of the day, like I said last night, he’s a very athletic, very capable shooter. He had a huge impact on the game yesterday and we just have to do a little bit better job guarding him. But again, you have to pick your poison a little bit. But if you play with multiple efforts, I think you can do both.”

Smart evaluated

Stevens said that guard Marcus Smart, who has been sidelined since tearing a tendon in his right thumb when diving for a loose ball March 11, will be evaluated by a doctor next week, and if that goes well he could be cleared to play.

Stevens said Smart is taking part in all of Boston’s workouts.

“He hasn’t played any like two-on-two, three-on-three, four-on-four, five-on-five,” Stevens said. “I think it’s just a matter of you have to have that post-surgery healed to be able to take a hit even with the brace on it.


“That’s the holdup. Other than that, I think he feels pretty good. He’s shooting the ball. He’s doing everything in a workout that you can do. It’s just a matter of being cleared for live play.”

Stevens said he believes that when Smart is cleared to complete a full practice, he also will be cleared to play in a game.

Practice canceled

The Celtics had been scheduled to hold a full practice Saturday afternoon, but Stevens canceled it at the last minute. Instead, the team watched film at the hotel and did a brief walk-through in a ballroom. Stevens gave players the option of going to the Bradley Center for extra work.

“If not, get off their feet and get ready to compete tomorrow,” Stevens said. “This is a unique situation with an 8:30 [Central Time] start [Friday], noon start tomorrow, and I want to be fresh and ready to go.”

Morris brothers fined

Celtics forward Marcus Morris was fined $15,000 by the NBA for criticizing officials after Friday’s loss. He got off easier than his brother Markieff, who was docked $25,000 for what the league termed “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official” in the Wizards’ win over the Raptors Friday.

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