By Terrance Turner
May 1, 2022
The first day of May brought the first game of a conference playoff series between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics. On the road in Boston, the Bucks had to overcome a hard-driving Celtics defense and the absence of injured star Khris Middleton. But in a rough, chippy, physical game, the Bucks prevailed — thanks largely to star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The action started almost immediately, as Giannis was swarmed by defenders, causing a turnover. Celtics center-forward Al Horford scored the first points of the game with a three-point jumper. Giannis slammed down a one-handed dunk. Marcus Smart answered with a three-point jump shot to make it 6-3. Bucks guard Jrue Holiday responded with his own jumper — then answered Robert Williams’s dunk with another three, to tie the game at 8. Smart’s free throws and a Giannis jump shot would tie the game again, this time at 10.
It was 12-11 when the Celtics went on 7-0 run. The Bucks were down 18-12 when their head coach called a timeout. That marked a turning point for the Bucks, who began to make the game more competitive. Thanks in part to some deft assists by Antetokounmpo (who helped Jevon Carter, Wesley Matthews, and Bobby Portis), Milwaukee went on a 10-0 run to end the 1st quarter. The Bucks led 27-24.
The second quarter began with a tightly contested game: Boston guard Payton Pritchard tied the game with three-pointer, and he added another minutes later to put the Celtics up by one. But then each team was hampered by a flurry of misses. Nearly three minutes went by without a basket (save for Milwaukee guard Pat Connaughton’s three-point jumper), and both teams became prone to unforced errors.
A bad pass by Celtics star Jayson Tatum got stolen by Bucks’ Grayson Allen; Milwaukee guard Pat Connaughton was called for traveling. Boston gurd Marcus Smart missed a layup; Bucks forward Bobby Portis was called for a charge, causing a turnover. Jaylen Brown later turned it over for the Celtics. Tatum finaly ended the drought with a two-point shot, and Allen answered for three. But 36 seconds later, Tatum had another pass stolen by Allen. Missed shots, turnovers, and blocks dominated the action until the Bucks called timeout with 6:38 left.
The scoring started to pick up, but so did the falls: players began to trip over each other in what became an increasingly chippy game. Boston guard Marcus Smart accidentally hit Bucks guard Grayson Allen in the face with his leg during a play for the ball. The two crashed to the ground, but Smart helped Allen up.
Shortly thereafter, another Bucks-Celtics tumble occurred, and later Smart got injured while driving to the basket. He injured his shoulder on the play in what was later called a “stinger”. After the ref blew the whistle, Smart bent over in pain, holding his shoulder as he rushed straight to the locker room.
Antetokounmpo himself narrowly avoided injury when he tumbled onto the court while driving to the hoop. He fell sideways over a Celtics defender, crashing out of bounds. But he appeared unharmed and made both of his free throws to cap off a 6-0 run by the Bucks. They led 56-46 at halftime (their largest lead of the game).
Milwaukee forward Bobby Portis pushed the team’s lead to 12. But Celtics star Jayson Tatum hit back-to-back threes to cut the lead in half. Celtics got within five after an alley-oop drunk by Robert Williams, but Holiday and Portis expanded the lead to nine before a Portis free throw put them back ahead by double digits.
Bucks maintained a slim lead throughout the third quarter. Antetokounmpo bullied Tatum on a couple plays late in the third. While Tatum tried to guard him, he quickly spun around –shaking Tatum and sending him flying to the edge of the court – then drove to the basket for the layup and the foul. (He missed the free throw.)
But minutes later, he steamrolled Tatum again, knocking him over for what turned out to be his fourth foul. Tatum made both of his free throws to bring Boston within six, and an exasperated Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer had Antetokounmpo come to the bench with 3:37 left in the quarter. (Brook Lopez replaced him).
Milwaukee led 74-66 with 1:35 remaining. Great ball movement by the Bucks led to a miss by Connaughton, who then rebounded and tipped in his own missed shot to give the Bucks a 10-point lead. Derrick White hit a three to knock the lead back down to seven. Holiday drove for some points in the paint, but Tatum went one for two with the free throw line after a foul by Connaughton. Bucks led 78 to 70 at the end of the third quarter.
Holiday nailed a floater to open the 4th quarter. Bucks led 80 to 70. Tatum sank both free throws after a foul but the bucks went on a 7-0 run topped by a masterful three-point shot from Portis. He was assisted by Antetokounmpo, who had already notched his second playoff triple-double. The Bucks’ lead swelled to fifteen: 87-72.
While trying to make a pass, Tatum was blocked; he and the Milwaukee defender dove to the ground, with him grabbing the ball and Tatum being called for a foul. Then, in a stunning highlight-reel play, Antetokounmpo battled the Boston defense, heaved the ball against the backboard and then grabbed his own assist for a thunderous slam dunk.
The Bucks bench erupted after the play. Center Brook Lopez was exuberant: “Put that on the film!” he yelled from the sideline. “Put it on the film!”
Shortly afterward, Antetokounmpo rebounded a missed shot by a teammate, slamming it down to put the Bucks over 100 points. By then, Boston fans were heading for the exits.
The Bucks won Game 1, 101-89. Jayson Tatum scored 21 and Jaylen Brown had 12 points, but the two Boston stars combined to shoot 10 for 31 in the game. Al Horford added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Celtics, who shot 33% from the floor as a team. Bucks’ Jrue Holiday had 25 points and 10 rebounds and Bobby Portis had 15 points and 11 boards, per ESPN.
Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists for his second career playoff triple-double. In a courtside interview afterwards, he was asked: “What was the message, particularly in the first quarter when the guys were trailing?”
“We’ve got to be here. We’ve got to be here tonight,” he answered. “Guard them as much as possible. Make it as tough as possible for them. Make them play one-on-one; rebound the ball, and go the other way.”
“You scored or assisted on 55 points out of the 87 while you were on the floor,” the interviewer informed him, adding that the backboard dunk was particularly impressive. “What was it like for you to do that?”
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” he said modestly. “My teammates were aggressive and I was aggressive.”