It’s only November 1, but the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks look as good as any non-Golden State Warriors team. Brad Stevens’ unit edged out the win on Thursday, 117-113, but in the final minutes it looked as if this game could’ve been anyone’s.
After years of acknowledging that the top of the Eastern Conference just couldn’t compete with the Western Conference, the tides appear to be changing. The Bucks, Celtics and Toronto Raptors all have top-tier talents, and even more importantly, well-rounded two-way supplements. It’s Golden State’s year, but any of these teams can compete with the next-best of the west. Especially if the Houston Rockets don’t bounce back.
Thursday night’s Bucks-Celtics matchup couldn’t sprout a hot take if it wanted, and each fanbase should be pleased. Both sides showed elite moments on both sides of the ball, and aside from Giannis Antetotkounmpo’s 31 points and Kyrie Irving’s 28, nobody truly controlled this game. These teams could make an Eastern Conference Finals to remember.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was brilliant against Boston’s fleet of wings
Antetokounmpo double-doubled on a 33-point and 11-rebound night. The swarming wings Boston tried to contain him with, including Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Morris couldn’t stop the Greek Freak. Giannis willed his way to the rim on 16 of his 22 shot attempts, taking high efficiency shots all night.
It’s getting harder and harder to shut him out as one of the best five or so players in the league.
The Celtics got their star, Gordon Hayward, back too
In the absence of Jaylen Brown, who sat out with foot soreness, Gordon Hayward went off for his best game of the season. On 11 shots, he scored 15 points to go along with five assists and four rebounds. He sunk 3-of-5 threes, which contributed to Boston’s franchise-record 24 makes.
Hayward came into the game shooting just 41 percent from the floor, but made 6-of-11, taking confident heat-check-esque looks in the moment. If Boston wants to compete with the best, it’s going to need the old Hayward every night.
Khris Middleton had a bad shooting night, and Milwaukee was still in this
Middleton came into the game shooting a scorching 55 percent from 3-point range, but came back to Earth to only make 3-of-10. And for the entire game he made just 6-of-18 shots.
Middleton is a shade below a star-level player, and he’s the next-best the Bucks have outside Giannis, so it’s impressive Milwaukee stayed so close. Boston’s starpower clearly outshines the Bucks’, but a handful of solid contributors — Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon, mostly — kept the ship afloat.
The Bucks are deep.
The Celtics didn’t have Jaylen Brown, but they defended threes well
Boston kept the second-most prolific 3-point shooting team in the league off the arc despite missing one of their best wing defenders in Brown. Milwaukee averages 39 looks per game, but shot just 29, and made a mere 31 percent of them.
With Milwaukee’s sudden pace-and-space offense that’s cut down on mid-range looks and increased shots from deep, this wasn’t an easy task for Boston. The Celtics may have allowed too many easy cuts to the basket, but at the least cut off the Bucks from what’s become their bread-and-butter. Three-point shooting is what’s allowed Milwaukee to ravage through its opening schedule.
It’s naive to exaggerate what happens the day after Halloween, with months of basketball to play until the postseason, but both Boston and Milwaukee look to be on the path to become worthy opponents for Golden State to beat.
And hey, that’s all we can ask for at this point.