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CELTICS 116, BUCKS 105

Did Jayson Tatum break out of his shooting rut? And other observations from win over Bucks

Celtics Marcus Smart (left) and Grant Williams battled the Bucks’ Robin Lopez for a first-half rebound.JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

The Celtics stormed back from a 19-point deficit and grabbed an emphatic 116-105 win over the Bucks on Wednesday night in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals.

Kemba Walker led the Celtics with 32 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists, and Jayson Tatum added 25 points. Boston outscored Milwaukee, 74-47, in the second half.

■  Jaylen Brown missed the game because of an illness and Marcus Smart started in his place. Smart gave Boston’s sleepy first-half offense a bit of a jolt with back-to-back 3-pointers and appeared to yell toward Milwaukee’s bench after each one. But he had his greatest impact swarming the league MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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Just 51 seconds into the game, he smothered Antetokounmpo’s shot at the rim, resulting in a jump ball. He later took a charge in the post and served as a general nuisance during his time defending the superstar.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was held in check for sizable portions of the night by defenders like Marcus Smart.Winslow Townson/FR170221 AP via AP

■  After the Celtics trimmed at 19-point lead to 13 late in the first half, Smart was on the wrong end of a bad play. With time running down he stepped in front of Antetokounmpo beyond the arc, attempting to pick up the Bucks star’s third foul. Instead, Smart was called for a blocking foul, Brad Stevens challenged the call and did not win it, and Antetokounmpo got three free throws, helping send his team to a 58-42 halftime lead.

■  Antetokounmpo was probably thrilled to get that chance at the line before the half, because a couple minutes earlier he airballed consecutive attempts, much to the crowd’s delight.

■  The Celtics’ options against Antetokounmpo were limited. In the past, Al Horford has served as the primary defender, with some help from the burly Aron Baynes. They’re both gone now, and the Celtics simply don’t have a player who can physically match up against Antetokounmpo’s combination of size and speed. Brown would have been an option, but he was out. Daniel Theis started the game on him, but it became apparent that Smart was the best option.

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■  With Brown and Enes Kanter out, Stevens was forced to go to some unusual lineups. Still, the guess here is that the five-man grouping of Gordon Hayward, Carsen Edwards, Grant Williams, Brad Wanamaker, and Semi Ojeleye that was used in the second quarter will not be seen again any time soon.

■  Grant Williams was not known as a shooter at Tennessee, but he has worked hard to expand his range. The Bucks, apparently, do not respect his shot just yet. When Robin Lopez was guarding Williams in the first half, he left him about 10 feet of room on the perimeter. Williams fired up two 3-pointers, and they both missed.

■  The third quarter started with more promise for Boston, with Hayward and Tatum drilling back-to-back 3-pointers in the first 51 seconds. The Bucks absorbed that punch, though, and still led by 13 more than midway through the third quarter.

Kemba Walker drives to the basket in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s contest.Winslow Townson/FR170221 AP via AP

But the Bucks’ hot shooting cooled considerably, with Wes Matthews and Eric Bledsoe chucking up errant 3-pointers, much to Boston’s delight.

■  The guess here is that by Christmas, Matthews will no longer be the Bucks’ starting shooting guard. He’s just not the threat he once was.

■  Tatum has been in a shooting rut, but maybe the two big 3-pointers he drilled late in the third quarter will get him going. The second, which gave Boston a 4-point lead in the final seconds of the period, brought Paul Pierce onto the court, screaming and waving from his front-row seat.

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Tatum truly delighted the fans with a more emphatic basket early in the fourth, as he streaked upcourt and threw in a powerful one-handed slam.

Jayson Tatum had his teammates and the crowd fired up in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game.Winslow Townson/FR170221 AP via AP

■  It’s no surprise that crowds are quiet during blowouts and rowdy during massive comebacks, but the Garden had a playoff-like feel in the second half. Felt sort of like an old Isaiah Thomas game.

■  Do you think Stevens wanted this one? Tatum, Hayward, Smart, and Walker all played 37-plus minutes. The absences of Kanter and Brown had plenty to do with that, but those are still some unusually high numbers for a regulation game.

■  Hayward was listless in the first half. He was 2 for 8 for 5 points and looked tentative, and there were some audible groans. In the second half, he was not. He found his spots on drives and developed a real rhythm. His up-and-under layup early in the fourth quarter was reminiscent of pre-injury Hayward.

He finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. It was his first 20 and 10 game as a Celtic.


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