Marcus Smart returned from a month-long absence and made a whole bunch of hustle plays as the Boston Celtics used a total team effort to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks and take a 3-2 series lead.
After two frustrating performances in Milwaukee, the Boston Celtics returned home for Game 5 looking to get back on the right track. While it wasn’t easy, they did just that as four players scored in double-digits and Marcus Smart added nine points, five rebounds, four assists and three blocks in his return from a thumb injury, and Boston held off multiple second half runs from the Bucks to walk away with a 92-87 victory.
Boston reached halftime with a 48-37 lead as the Bucks struggled to get any production from their role players who shot just 6-for-25 from the field and 2-for-12 from 3-point range in the first half. In fact, the only real reason the game stayed close was the continued stellar play of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton who each scored 11 first half points.
The second half started much like the first, as the Celtics pushed their lead to 13 when Terry Rozier and Eric Bledsoe got into a shoving match about halfway through the third quarter. Shortly after, Milwaukee made their first run of the half, as Shabazz Muhammad checked in and scored 11 points in just five minutes for Milwaukee, bringing them within four points.
But just as they did all night, Boston answered with a Jaylen Brown 3-pointer, capping off a 7-0 run to push it to 11 at the end of three quarters.
A few effort plays from Jabari Parker, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, helped cut the lead down to four points, but Al Horford, who led Boston with 22 points and 14 rebounds, knocked down a 3-pointer from the right corner to put the Celtics up seven with a bit under six minutes to go.
Milwaukee cut it down to four with just over a minute left before a clear shot clock violation on the Celtics went uncalled, leading to Boston getting an extra possession late. Some late 3s from Milwaukee and Boston free throws shaped the final score, in what was an ugly but entertaining game throughout.
Smart brings his unique energy: Once it was announced on Tuesday afternoon that Marcus Smart would be making his return, it was clear he would bring the Celtics a shot in the arm. What was a bit surprising was how long he was able to do that for Boston.
In his first game since surgery on March 16, Smart gave the Celtics 25 minutes of hard-nosed, physical basketball. Within the first minute of checking in, Smart found himself diving on the floor after poking a ball loose, the first of many times he ended up on the ground in the game. While he was playing, Smart did Smart things. He flew around the floor deflecting passes, defended Khris Middleton in the post with physicality, met Antetokounmpo at the rim on an alley-oop and went 5-for-5 from the line.
For a team that really needed some type of boost, Smart was a godsend, and it was fitting that the Celtics really sealed the game late when Smart fell to the ground trying to avoid the Bucks trap before coming out of a scramble for the ball with a pass to Horford for a wide open layup. The Celtics consistently needed that little bit of extra to push them over the top, and often it was Smart who gave it to them.
Prunty and Bledsoe struggle again: One of the biggest problems for the Bucks in this series has been the negative impact of Eric Bledsoe and head coach Joe Prunty. That continued in Game 5.
While Bledsoe’s final line of 16 points, five rebounds and three assists seems fine, it took him 15 shots to get there and his defense was a trainwreck. Repeatedly in the first half, Bledsoe just failed to make an effort to close out on Celtics shooters. In a game decided by single digits, this type of effort is unacceptable:
Prunty, on the other hand, struggled repeatedly. It started in the first half, when he pulled his star for way too long. That resulted in Antetokounmpo having to play the entire second half to reach his reasonable amount of minutes in the game, which left Giannis exhausted by the time the late fourth quarter rolled around. By playing Antetokounmpo earlier in the second quarter, Prunty could have pulled him for a short rest in the third quarter and still got 40 minutes from the best player in the series, which Milwaukee needs to win.
Finally, Prunty struggled mightily with rotation decisions in the fourth. While Muhammad gave the Bucks good minutes early in the second half, Prunty’s decision to play him in crunch time over Matthew Dellavadova, Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell or Thon Maker was very confusing. Brogdon’s absence was especially confusing considering the play of Bledsoe. While Brogdon wasn’t great, he is a superior shooter and defender to Bledsoe, so his 19 minutes as opposed to 34 for Bledsoe made little sense.
The call: One of the major talking points of the next few days will surely be the shot clock violation that was not called on Al Horford with just over a minute left. The ball clearly was still on Horford’s hand after the timer expired to the point that multiple Bucks stopped playing on the play. Nothing was called, and Boston grabbed the rebound leading to an entirely new shot clock which they burned most of before missing a 3-pointer. While the Bucks should be mad, it was a two-possession game and they lost a possession late, so it did not decide the game.
If Milwaukee just got reasonable production from its role players they would have gone back home up 3-2. Instead Snell, Dellavadova, Maker and Brogdon combined to shoot 2-for-17 from the floor, including 0-for-12 from 3-point territory. That just won’t get it done on the road for the underdog.
If just a few of those shots had gone in, the Bucks would not have been in a position where the blown call impacted them as much. Instead, they put themselves in the position where one call changed everything. While many Bucks fans will want to blame the officiating, they shouldn’t. Instead, they should be blaming the rims at the TD Garden.