MILWAUKEE — It was a classic playoff shellacking; the Celtics made two shots in the first quarter and never recovered Friday at BMO Bradley Center. The Milwaukee Bucks were the better team, draining threes, playing with more energy, roughhousing, and defending staunchly.
The 116-92 response from the Bucks was not all that unexpected, but a disturbing trend in this series is Milwaukee’s ability to score with ease. The Bucks are shooting 55 percent in the series, with players such as Khris Middleton dropping buckets on the Celtics effortlessly.
The issue Friday was Thon Maker and Jabari Parker joined in, and so did embarrassed Eric Bledsoe. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who looked fearful of attempting 3-pointers in the first two games of the series, canned three Friday, including a straightaway 27-footer, exactly the type of shot the Celtics want him to take.
The Celtics, one of the better defensive teams in the NBA all season, are being scorched in this series. Middleton, a 46.6 percent shooter in the regular season and 45 percent for his career, looks like Jerry West out there, making 62.7 percent of his shots. He has made 12 of his 21 3-point attempts.
Antetokounmpo didn’t need to be his absolute best for the Bucks to win Friday, but he still scored 19 points on 13 shots. Bledsoe finally contributed offensively, but did just as much trash talking and waving for the crowd to rise to its feet. Maker, who played one minute in the first two games, hit three 3-pointers and blocked five shots.
The Celtics were trying to make a statement in Game 3 that the first two games were more than just hot shooting. But not only couldn’t they hit any shots, they also allowed the Bucks to walk right into open jumpers, so afraid of the Antetokounmpo dribble penetration.
For the first time in weeks, the Celtics looked ill-prepared for the environment, as if they didn’t expect the Bucks to make the first punch or the second.
“They played well, I’m not going to take no credit from them,” Celtics forward Marcus Morris said. “They started switching the screens. We wasn’t ready for that. They made shots. But we’re not panicking. We just got sped up with the crowd and [expletive] going on. It happens. We got a young team. They’re a good team. They beat us fair and square. We know what to expect Sunday.”
But why not expect this Friday?
The whole point of a Game 3 on the road when you’re up 2-0 is to expect the trailing team to make a statement. The Celtics needed to be more disciplined. They needed to defend better. They needed to take care of the ball, even if it meant refraining from making hero plays.
The Celtics committed 14 first-half turnovers and allowed the Bucks to shoot 59 percent. They were the deer in headlights and that’s discouraging.
“We got into a hole, this is new for our group,” veteran center Al Horford said. “It’s the first time we’ve gone on the road in the playoffs in a tough environment. We faced some adversity. We’ll look at film and learn from it.
“I think we learned what the level of intensity is when you’re playing in the playoffs on the road. I think we’ll be better Sunday.”
Horford is right about one thing. It was the first road playoff game for Jayson Tatum and the other Celtics rookies. But the core of their team have played road playoff games, such as last year when they played at Chicago, at Washington, and at Cleveland.
This is Terry Rozier’s third playoff run. It’s Jaylen Brown’s second. It’s Morris’s second. Aron Baynes already has an NBA championship ring, so the “We’re new to this” excuse is just that. There was no excuse for this performance and the Celtics can’t simply rely on Sunday being a different and new day to respond.
There has to be major adjustments defensively, as in the Celtics need to get consistent stops, something they haven’t done all series. When they tried making runs in the second half Friday, the Bucks hit jumpers or players such as Parker were allowed to roam to the basket for easy hoops.
It wasn’t that Parker got going on his own. The Celtics let it happen. Of his seven field goals, six were within 5 feet, not exactly stellar defense. Maker was left open for 3-pointers — which the Celtics were correct in doing since he hit just 31 threes in 74 games this season — but he hit those open shots in Game 3 and was fouled by Baynes on the other.
That was a case of a reserve player feeling comfortable at home. That is excusable because Maker isn’t a good 3-point shooter, he just was Friday.
But it would have been nice if the Celtics didn’t let Maker or Parker get so comfortable. The Bucks were pushing and shoving because they were desperate. They racked up 27 personal fouls because of their physicality to the Celtics’ 15.
In one sequence, Bledsoe pushed Horford to the floor after making a driving layup as Horford went to retrieve the ball. Horford rose and looked at official Scott Foster, who looked at him as if to say, “Play on.” Horford then got an offensive foul on the next possession and fired the ball back to Foster in frustration.
That was about as angry as the Celtics got all night, and that display wouldn’t have even offended Mister Rogers.
The Celtics were too darn nice all night, and they paid for their kindness with a blowout loss.
“Yeah, those were interesting plays,” Horford said, laughing and shaking his head in amazement. “That’s the way it goes. We’ll definitely learn from it and we’ll be better. I can’t say much else.
“I don’t want to give away money. If I give away money, I want to give it to charity. So I’m not going to give the league any money. Maybe I can say it in Spanish.”
The Celtics need to make some type of definitive statement Sunday because they played nice Friday, cooperating fully in allowing Milwaukee right back into this series.