Ashley Landis/Associated Press
The Milwaukee Bucks proved why they’re atop the league standings in their first game back from the NBA‘s hiatus, taking down the Boston Celtics, 119-112, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
The Bucks were playing without guards Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton as they continue to work back into game shape after they tested positive for the coronavirus earlier in July. Forward Marvin Williams was a late addition to the injury report with a left groin strain that isn’t expected to sideline him for long.
Friday marked the first time in more than 140 days that either team played in an official game.
The 22 teams inside the NBA bubble will each participate in eight seeding games before the postseason begins. All contests are taking place on the Disney World campus.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks: 36 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 14-of-20 FG
Khris Middleton, SF, Milwaukee Bucks: 18 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds
Daniel Theis, C, Boston Celtics: 13 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists
Marcus Smart, PG, Boston Celtics: 23 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist
Giannis in MVP Mode
When the NBA first went on hiatus in mid-March, Giannis Antetokounmpo made headlines by admitting he didn’t have a basketball hoop at his house and wouldn’t be able to practice. For a brief moment in time, it seemed like that meant the league might be able to catch up to the reigning MVP.
Of course, Antetokounmpo later admitted that was a lie. He was working out constantly—the fib was “to try to get a little bit ahead of the competition.”
It’s clear he was telling the truth this time. No one was able to contain him on Friday night. The Celtics threw Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown at Giannis on the first possession and he was still able to maneuver around them, helping the Bucks open up a 15-2 lead in nine minutes into the game. The only Celtics bucket during that run came via an accidental Milwaukee tip-in.
Leading the way, of course, was Antetokounmpo.
Within the first ten minutes Antetokounmpo had recorded 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists while shooting five-of-six from the floor. He’d finish off his double-double by halftime and came just three assists from a triple double.
Rusty he was not.
Antetokounmpo started piling up highlight dunks within minutes after the tip off as the Bucks held onto the lead from the opening bucket until Boston finally took a one-point lead with 6:50 left in regulation.
Milwaukee entered the hiatus as the best team in the NBA. They returned looking like a team trying to remind the league nothing has changed.
Boston’s Up and Down Offense
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens knew point guard Kemba Walker would be eased back into action over the next few games.
He likely didn’t think the rest of the backcourt would need time to warm up as well.
With Walker working back from a knee injury, Stevens capped his minutes at no more than 20 for the evening. Most of those were spent on the first half where Walker posted 10 points, one rebound and one assist in 13 minutes.
It was a mix of mostly good, with some bad. The guard shot three-for-six and seemed to keep the ball moving through the offense. He also got burned on defense with a crossover from Donte DiVincenzo that’ll end up on plenty of highlight reels.
Yet whatever Walker was able to produce was weighed down by the off-start from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
Tatum, in particular, was unable to get going on offense, seemingly missing from all areas of the floor to finish two-for-18 on the night while Brown picked up his fifth foul by early in the third quarter.
The Celtics have already clinched a playoff spot and are mostly playing for seeding at this point. More than anything, they need time to regain their full rhythm.
The next seven games will be crucial in doing so.
Both teams are back in action Sunday as part of six games on the NBA slate.
The Celtics take on the Portland Trail Blazers at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC, while the Bucks face off against the Houston Rockets at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.