Alone by a comfortable margin atop the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks now await the Thursday night arrival of what figures to be a determined Boston Celtics team.
The Celtics are considered one of a dwindling number of candidates with what appears to be the ability to upend the Bucks’ march to the NBA Finals, but they arrived in Milwaukee after an unexpected 116-103 defeat to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.
At 7 1/2 games behind the Bucks, the Celtics fell to third place in the Eastern Conference with only the Miami Heat between them and first-place Milwaukee.
The Bucks (36-6) already have moved past the halfway point, while the Celtics (27-12) will get there this weekend.
Unlike what happened to the Celtics on Wednesday, rare is a Bucks slip-up these days as they are 34-4 since their wobble to begin the season when they lost a pair of early games to conference contenders.
One of those early defeats came on Oct. 30 when they fell 116-105 at Boston in a game when the Bucks led by 19 in the first half. It was the only meeting between the teams so far this season.
The Celtics’ Kemba Walker had 21 of his 32 points in the second half, when the Celtics shot 54 percent from the field. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo was held to 22 points in that game, while adding 14 rebounds.
In full roar now, Antetokounmpo is scoring 30.0 points per game while grabbing 12.7 rebounds. He even leads the Bucks with 5.5 assists per game, while shooting 55.4 percent from the field.
It figures to be a different Bucks team facing the Celtics this time around, especially with the game at Milwaukee, but Antetokounmpo won’t admit to any additional motivation while facing Boston.
“We just have to come out there and do our job,” the reigning MVP said. “You know, our job is to win and hopefully we can play good basketball, play together, play hard, have an edge and be able to, you know, get a win.”
Milwaukee will definitely be the more rested team with the Celtics coming to Milwaukee on the second half of a back-to-back.
The Bucks earned a 128-102 victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday with the comfortable margin of victory allowing them to limit the minutes of their starters. Wesley Matthews was the only starter to play more than 22 minutes.
Celtics second-leading scorer Jayson Tatum did not play against the Pistons, missing his first game of the season because of a sore right knee. The Pistons exposed that absence as Sekou Doumbouya scored a season-high 24 points and Markieff Morris equaled his season high with 23. Derek Rose had 22 for Detroit.
Gordon Hayward scored 25 for the Celtics and Jaylen Brown added 24 as Boston shot 49.4 percent from the field. But the Pistons shot 60.3 percent, winning with ease despite nearly missing half of their free throws.
Tatum will travel with the Celtics to Milwaukee and is expected to play against the Bucks on Thursday. After the game, Brown had his hand wrapped after he sprained his thumb.
“I don’t think it’s too bad,” Brown said, according to NBC Sports Boston. “I told (the training staff), just see how it feels in the morning and we’ll go from there.”
–Field Level Media