In a matchup that will go a long way toward determining the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Boston Celtics will play the second half of a back-to-back set when they visit the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.
Boston (50-30) cruised to its third consecutive win on Wednesday, opening a season-ending, three-game road swing with a 117-94 rout of the Chicago Bulls.
Jaylen Brown led the way with 25 points and seven rebounds, while Jayson Tatum (16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and Al Horford (17 points, 10 boards) added double-doubles.
The Celtics announced Thursday afternoon that Tatum (right patella tendinopathy) and Horford (back soreness) will miss the game in Milwaukee.
With the wire-to-wire win, the Celtics moved a half-game ahead of the Bucks (49-30) for the East’s second seed and improved to 27-6 since they were below .500 following a Jan. 21 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Boston is two games behind the first-place Miami Heat (52-28) with two games left, but the Celtics hold the tiebreaker. The Bucks are tied for third with the Philadelphia 76ers (49-30).
The Celtics built a double-digit lead over the Bulls by the end of the first quarter and took a 16-point advantage into halftime. The one-sided contest allowed Boston coach Ime Udoka to spread playing time, which resulted in eight players logging between 17:50 and 34:40, and eight Celtics scoring eight points or more.
“Health and playing our best basketball are paramount going into the playoffs, and that’s what we’re doing right now,” Udoka said in Wednesday’s postgame press conference. “Two more games to fine-tune some things, figure out what we’re gonna do, and go from there.”
Boston heads into its penultimate game of the regular season looking to hold off Milwaukee, which pulled out of a two-game dip with a 127-106 win at Chicago on Tuesday.
The Bucks previously dropped back-to-back home games against the Los Angeles Clippers (153-119 on Friday) and the Dallas Mavericks (118-112 on Sunday).
“Winning anything in this league is hard,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said postgame on Tuesday after the Bucks clinched a fourth consecutive Central Division title. “We talk about it all the time in film sessions and practices, how hard it is to win a game.”
Tuesday’s win was a byproduct of the reigning NBA champions and league’s third-highest-scoring offense locking in a balanced attack. Seven Bucks scored in double figures, including all five starters, despite only Jrue Holiday logging more than 29 minutes.
Brook Lopez scored a team-high 28 points, Holiday finished with 11 points and 13 assists, Giannis Antetokounmpo amassed 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Antetokounmpo is making a case to win a third Most Valuable Player trophy in four seasons. Over his past 11 appearances, Antetokounmpo is averaging 33.1 points and has topped 40 three times and topped 30 eight times.
Antetokounmpo put up 36 points and 12 rebounds the last time he saw Boston, albeit back on Dec. 25 when the Celtics were struggling. Tatum and Brown each had 25 points in that contest, which the host Bucks won 117-113.
The Bucks listed Antetokounmpo as probable as he continues to battle a right knee ailment, with Grayson Allen (hip) doubtful to play.
–Field Level Media