BOSTON — When the Celtics needed their two stars the most, they both delivered. Jaylen Brown got things going and Jayson Tatum finished it off.
After Boston failed to match the physicality of the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of their East semifinal series on Sunday, the Celtics came out with a much different attitude on Tuesday, controlling the game from the start and leading from start to finish. a 109-86 victory.
“We knew we had to go out there and play like our season was on the line,” Brown said, “and we did.”
Brown finished with a game-high 30 points and made a career-high six 3-pointers in the playoffs. He set the tone for the team early on as they looked to bounce back from a lackluster performance in Game 1.
“We fit in well,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “We learned some things from Game 1 and we felt like we knew we didn’t react according to the way we’re playing. Two great teams, but they haven’t outplayed us like this all year. I think our guys took pride in that, we took it. seriously and we knew we’d come out with the right effort tonight.”
Leading that charge was Brown, who scored a playoff career-high 25 points in the first half. He was key as Boston opened up an 18-3 lead and never looked back.
“It’s the playoffs,” Brown said. “Survival of the fittest. Every game counts.”
In Game 1, the Celtics made just 10 2-point field goals, the franchise minimum for a playoff game or regular season game. Udoka lamented how the team strayed from the mid-range game. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday, as Brown hit three mid-ranges early on to set the tone there.
Udoka said he talked to Brown and Tatum about it before the game.
“We knew they’re open,” Udoka said. “You don’t have to over-penetrate and drive the big guys and take the 3 by yourself. We’ve got two really elite midrange shooters and we welcome those shots, especially when they’re back in that drop.”
Celtics forward Grant Williams said he knew hours before the game started that Brown was going to have a big night.
“I saw it in his eyes,” Williams said. “So at the beginning of the game, he was like, ‘Okay, do your thing,’ and we rooted for him and cheered him on. He set that tone and set the brand of aggression on the offensive end, not only knocking down open shots but also moving it.” .
While Brown led the charge early on, Tatum took care of things late, scoring 19 of his 29 points in the second half.
Like Williams, Tatum said he knew Brown would be ready for a big night going into the game. But more than that, he knew his team was ready to bounce back.
“We were upset about the way we played the last game and from top to bottom we knew we had to play better,” Tatum said. “Simple as that.”
The Celtics played stellar defense overall, but they did a much better job of making life difficult for Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-time MVP had 28 points, but was 11-for-27 from the field and 5-for-9 from the line.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said credit was due to the Celtics’ defenders for how they protected him throughout the night.
“The guys above him are solid, good guys, good defenders and then a little bit of help,” Budenholzer said. “That’s where you have to see it and feel it: whether we kick him and get more 3-pointers or he has to finish against the defense one-on-one. So, I think it’s a little bit of both. But Giannis, he always figures things out.” .
When a reporter told Antetokounmpo what Budenholzer said about figuring things out, he said, “I’m trying. I’m trying to figure it out.”
“It’s the playoffs,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously they are going to be more physical. They are going to be more physical. There are not going to be many fouls, there will be more activity, more discipline, but at the end of the day, it is the same mentality, the mentality does not change, you have to keep polishing, finding solutions to make the game your own. Make good plays. Find your teammates, get in the paint. No matter what they do, my mentality and the mentality of the team cannot change.”
Boston got things done defensively without the 2021-22 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, as Marcus Smart sat out with a right quadriceps contusion. With three days off between Game 2 and Game 3 in Milwaukee on Saturday, the Celtics are hopeful he’ll return to the lineup at that point.
Brown has been dealing with a lingering hamstring injury, and Udoka said taking him out a minute before the other starters, with Boston up 99-86 with 2:51 left, was about preserving him as he had played 38 minutes. Brown said his hamstring feels good, he’ll be ready for Game 3 and injuries are something every player has to deal with at this point in the season.
“The only thing that matters is the playoffs,” Brown said. “Everyone, we have to do what we have to do to make sure we’re ready to go. This time of year, everybody has nagging injuries or things they’re dealing with, so we can’t let that happen.” an excuse. You have to find a mental and physical way to get through whatever it is and just do it.”
Brown added that this was the Celtics’ first real test in the playoffs after sweeping the Brooklyn Nets in the first round and he was curious how the team would respond. Tatum was confident that the answer would be positive.
“Not every game is going to be perfect,” Tatum said. “We played the defending champions. They punched in the mouth in the first game. I knew we’d be ready tonight from a competitive standpoint. Making adjustments from game to game, I think that’s what the playoffs are all about.”
ESPN’s Jamal Collier contributed to this report.