NBA Film Room: How Celtics Pulled Out Game 7 Win vs. Bucks

Boston Celtics, NBA
NBA Analysis Network

The home team has a distinct advantage historically when it comes to Game 7’s. The Boston Celtics made the most of it Sunday, winning in dominant fashion 109-81 over the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks. But it was more than just home-court advantage that got Boston the win on Sunday.

The Boston Celtics’ ball movement kept them one step ahead of the Bucks on the offensive end. Continuing their dominant defense on the other end of the floor, the Celtics kept the Bucks to just 36.7% shooting from the field. The game wasn’t as easy as the score indicates though – and in fact, it was the Bucks that came out swinging first.

The Milwaukee Bucks won the first quarter 26-20 on the back of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak posted 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in 11 minutes – a near triple-double through one quarter.

Giannis’ passing was huge early for the Bucks, and it says more about the supporting cast than it does about Giannis. On his half-court assists, Giannis was finding active cutters who were making the most of the attention Giannis drew. He was also hitting outside shooters who – shockingly – were actually hitting threes.

This might spoil the rest of the game, but you’ll notice the Bucks made two threes off of Giannis passes in the first quarter. The Bucks made three 3’s total that quarter – and would go on to make just one more the entire game.

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Giannis was attacking the rim, getting to the line, and even hit a three in the first quarter – and he had the Bucks looking to be in good shape.

Defensively, the Bucks’ strategy was pretty simple. Contain the pick-and-roll, provide help at the rim from Giannis and/or Brook Lopez, and let the role players shoot.

It worked for one quarter. The Celtics were able to generate good looks from deep, pressuring the pick-and-roll coverage as much as possible before kicking it out. Some looks came in semi-transition, with smart passes keeping Boston ahead of the scrambling Bucks. In the first quarter, though, those shots just weren’t falling for the Celtics’ depth guys.

The Boston Celtics won the second quarter 28-17, but they did so in their own way. A lot of teams would look at the first quarter and opt to stay the course, trusting the shots to begin falling. The Celtics didn’t do that.

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Boston dominated the second frame by attacking the rim, challenging the Bucks’ help to fully commit. The key change for Boston is that those drive-and-kick plays went from ‘drive-and-kick to a shooter’ to ‘drive-and-kick to another driver.’ Boston challenged the Bucks’ defense at the place it predicates its defense on protecting the most – the rim.

Just watch how Pritchard at 8:25 gets room for a stepback but instead pressures the defense with a drive. Watch how Horford dives to the rim for his dunk. How Theis does the same later, ready for a dump-off on Tatum’s euro-step score. Boston did not take what the Bucks were giving them. They took what they wanted.

Defensively, no clip is necessary. Take a look at the Bucks’ three-point attempts in that second quarter.

Not only were they all misses – they were all pretty deep, top-of-the-key threes. Boston committed to stopping Giannis, sending a mix of doubles, and packing the paint. The Celtics were able to keep pace with the Bucks’ passing though, rotating quickly to threaten three-point looks. The result was nine contested, deep, ugly three-point misses from Milwaukee.

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Boston’s dominance continued into quarter three when they won 31-21.

Milwaukee effectively kept themselves off of the three-point line after their horrendous 0-9 quarter. The Bucks went 1-6 from deep in the third, and were reluctant to even take shots from there.

Give the Boston Celtics’ defense credit for denying the opportunities, for sure, but Jrue Holiday and Giannis very much limited the Bucks’ offense on their own.

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The two Bucks stars looked to attack through the middle of the paint for most of the third. Aside from a couple tough misses from Antetokounmpo, the Bucks didn’t generate many clean looks doing this. Contested lay-ups for Holiday and Antetokounmpo were the best result they got from their third-quarter offense.

You’ll also notice a fair amount of missed deep twos in the quarter. The Milwaukee Bucks, without Middleton, lack a reliable three-level scorer. When they went to Holiday-and-Antetokounmpo-ball, the only open looks the Bucks could generate were off-the-dribble mid-range looks from the duo. As you can see, they didn’t go too well.

Meanwhile, the Celtics were thriving offensively. Capitalizing on the rim pressure they generated in the second quarter, Boston resumed letting it fly from deep. Now, though, the supporting cast, namely Grant Williams, were hitting.

The quality of looks weren’t too different from the first quarter. However, by establishing the drive, the Boston Celtics made the Milwaukee Bucks closeouts a little more hesitant. The resulting open threes turned a strong performance into a blowout.

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The fourth quarter of the game was largely garbage time, so we’ll take this time to think ahead to Miami.

Things will look different for Boston against Miami. With Bam Adebayo, the Heat are much more well equipped to run a switching scheme. Rather than generating open corner looks for Williams, stars Tatum and Brown will need to hunt and win match-ups in order to bend the defense. If those two can get to the rim and draw help, Boston’s role players can again step up.

Don’t expect Grant Williams to lead the team in scoring in any games against Miami. Still, Boston showed its mettle against one of the league’s best defenses, finding the cracks and showing the depth to exploit them. The cracks will be different against Boston, so it remains to be seen if they’ll have similar success.

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Boston’s defense, on the other hand, is equipped for any match-up. With a hopefully-healthy Williams III next round, Boston is a real threat to earn a Finals berth.