Missed a golden opportunity: 10 takeaways from Boston Celtics-Milwaukee Bucks Game 5

1. Sigh.

Heavy sigh.

Heavier sigh.

The heaviest of sighs.

The Boston Celtics “missed a golden opportunity” as Ime Udoka said after the game, after his team crumbled and gave up Game 5 to the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston now heads to Milwaukee with a major battle ahead of them. The Bucks have two chances to advance, while the Celtics need to win two.

That’s quite a significant difference.

The sad part? Everything was so avoidable. If the Celtics had made one more play anytime in the last eight minutes or so of the game, they would have control of the series.

Just one more game.

Instead, it was the defending champions who made every play in the streak. And now they can close it at home.

2. A little peak behind the Takeaways curtain. To keep track of what happened throughout the game, your trusty author runs a notes document. It’s full of live observations and reflections. Sometimes it’s individual games, sometimes individual players, sometimes it’s bigger themes of the game as a whole. Periodically, with the benefit of a re-watch, things will jump very differently than they seemed live, and those notes are adjusted or removed.

In a ho-hum regular season game, the document will be between 30 and 50 notes. For a big regular season or particularly interesting game, it’s between 50 and 60 ratings. In the playoffs, that jumps to around 75 ratings.

Game 5 had 88 notes, and that’s without those in the last five parts of the game.

Now? Few of these ratings really matter. They are almost all abandoned because of how the game ended. Such is life when you witness an epic meltdown.

3. To be fair: To crash, you have to play well first. For most of the three quarters, the Celtics played very well. Heck, even the first few minutes of the fourth quarter were pretty good.

The ball movement was solid. The defense was exceptional. Everyone who saw the floor contributed in some way, led by very strong efforts off the bench.

It used to be so great…until it wasn’t anymore.

4. Rather than going through a bunch of clips, we’re just going to offer some thoughts on how the 8:01 finale went. To be completely honest, your author doesn’t really have it in him to relive the play-by-play style of the game. Plus, who really wants that anyway?

Let’s start with why we choose 8:01 as the starting point.

With 8:15 to play, Payton Pritchard drove for a bucket over Grayson Allen to put Boston up 98-87. On the ensuing defensive possession, Al Horford stole the ball from Giannis Antetokounmpo and was fouled recovering the loose ball with 8:01 remaining.

From there, the Bucks beat Boston 23-9 to win the game.

Outscored 23-9 to close the game and potentially the series and the season.

5. Sticking with the “final 8:01” part, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foul was the Bucks’ fourth team foul of the final period. Boston had an 11-point and free-throw lead for 8:01.

The Celtics made four free throws the rest of the way. All shot on two shooting fouls.

Four free throws while in the bonus for more than eight minutes. At home. While holding a double-digit lead.

It’s a stunning lack of attacking mindset. And that’s sort of endemic to the loss as a whole. Boston just couldn’t shut down a game they needed.

6. Besides the lack of free throws, the other offensive problem is that the Celtics simply stopped playing basketball with 8:01 left. Look at these numbers:

If the sight test didn’t tell you the Celtics had plenty of one- or no-pass possessions in the half-court offense, the numbers tell the story.

Boston went into this extreme time-killing style of play with a ton of time left in the fourth quarter. They rarely shot with more than five or six seconds on the clock. And most of them came out of isolation sets where one player, usually Jayson Tatum, was holding the ball.

It looked exactly like the shockingly bad late-game offense the Celtics ran against the Miami Heat in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals. When things got tight in this series, Boston slowed down and is became this extreme ISO team and didn’t rush Miami with pace and ball movement. Hopefully it’s just a blip, but it was an ominous reminder, to say the least.

Finally, tied to this whole fence offense is shot selection. Boston took no three-pointers in the fourth quarter. Yes, the Celtics took a look at the rim, but they also shot 2 of 6 on a long deuce in the game’s final 8:01. It was ISO after ISO in two disputed and late features. The drive-and-kick game that had generated so many good looks was gone.

The Bucks are to be commended because they started to change some actions and that pushed Boston to those shots. But defensive tweaks or not, the Celtics just need to look better on the stretch than a contested long two with the clock running out.

7. Turnovers have been key in this series. Boston was excellent with their ball handling in the first half of Game 5. In the second half? Not really.

The Celtics had eight turnovers in the second half, including five in the fourth quarter. The first four turnovers directly allowed the Bucks to score 10 points. The last one caused the Bucks to miss the second or so remaining on the clock.

Throughout the series, live ball turnovers have plagued Boston. Milwaukee continually struggled to score against Boston’s half-court defense. But giving them points in transition hurt the Celtics hugely and did it again in the fourth quarter.

8. Related to the above, at least in part, was poor transition defense. Not only did Milwaukee score 10 fourth-quarter turnover points, but they added five more in transition during the period.

The maddening thing? Nine of those runs, plus another non-transition three-pointer, came on plays where the Bucks hit three-pointers while the Celtics complained to officials.

Twice Jayson Tatum was caught barking at the refs, while Jaylen Brown and Grant Williams were caught once each. Because they weren’t defending, Milwaukee was able to find shots in advantageous situations.

In a game that’s been very well officiated, with almost no controversy, that’s ridiculous. 12 points in the fourth quarter of a tight game because the players hired the officials instead of playing defense. It is inexplicable and unacceptable.

9. Finally, we will talk about the rebound, or better, the absence thereof. Milwaukee had 17 offensive rebounds, which they converted into 20 second-chance points. That’s a huge number in a three-point loss.

Yes, the focus will be on Bobby Portis returning with 11.4 seconds left. Failing to grab a rebound from a missed free throw was “inexcusable” in the words of Ime Udoka.

But you know what? This one wasn’t even that bad! Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart simply pushed the ball away from each other. And Portis was in the right place at the right time for the comeback.

There were several other occasions where Boston just didn’t block and the Bucks got snaps or easy ejections for wide-opening shots. On the contrary, the Celtics were lucky that the Bucks didn’t score more runs on second chances.

Allowing 17 offensive rebounds in what is essentially a must-play game is “a matter of pride,” as Marcus Smart said after the game.

10. It was tempting to focus on Marcus Smart’s play in the final stretch as one of the takeaways, but he, Ime Udoka, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown all said Boston’s final offensive set failed due to miscommunication. It seemed like no one but Smart and Derrick White were quite ready for the part, and it all went awry from there. Then Smart tried to play.

And dismiss Smart’s criticism of the final turnover. Just because you saw a static shot or a cropped camera angle in slow motion doesn’t mean that’s how the ground looks like the guy with the ball because he has two defenders running towards him in half court. There was a lot of shouting that the guys were open, but they really weren’t. Smart couldn’t have found Tatum on the cross-court from the most popular angle, as Giannis Antetokounmpo, just off-screen, was ready to pounce. It was a wild scramble game with no downtime.

Let’s move on. As Ime Udoka, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have all said versions of, “This show isn’t over.”

The Celtics have already won in Milwaukee, and they probably should have won twice. They didn’t, and that’s what counts with a 3-2 deficit. But they have another chance. It’s about bringing this series back to Boston now. Go home for game 7.

As Tatum said, the Celtics can’t win two on Friday night. They can only win one. Since the start of 2022, this team has shown resilience and focused solely on what’s next. It has to happen one more time. It’s all about winning Game 6. No matter what.

Game 6 takes place Friday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

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