PREVIEW: Milwaukee Bucks aim for ninth straight win in rematch vs. Boston Celtics

Mar 17, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) reacts after scoring against the Philadelphia 76ersa during overtime at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks ride the NBA’s longest current winning streak into the second game of two straight with the slumping Boston Celtics on Friday in Milwaukee.

The Bucks took the first leg of the consecutive matchups with Boston on Wednesday, 121-119, despite nearly coughing up a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter and a 25-point advantage earlier in the game. Milwaukee went the final 1:43 without a point but held Boston scoreless for the last 1:32 to preserve the win.

The first meeting between the Bucks and Celtics, back on Dec. 23 in the season opener, followed a similar arc but with roles reversed: Milwaukee rallied from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit, only to lose 122-121.

In Wednesday’s matchup, Donte DiVincenzo made a critical block of Kemba Walker, Brook Lopez rejected a Marcus Smart attempt and Milwaukee’s denial of a baseline, out-of-bounds play with two seconds remaining that forced center Daniel Theis to take the final shot.

“The big thing for us is the trust we have on the floor,” DiVincenzo said in his postgame press conference, describing Milwaukee’s defensive energy of late. “If somebody goes and gambles for a steal, or somebody gets beat, we’re starting to trust more (a teammate) on the back side of stepping up and making plays and scrambling.

“(It’s) composure, but also that trust factor of knowing if you get beat, somebody has your back.”

The Bucks offense leads the NBA in scoring at 120 points per game, and they are posting 124.3 points on average during the team’s current winning streak. Milwaukee’s defensive yield is up slightly amid the streak, at 112.9 points given up per game compared to 112.6 on the season.

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But the win Wednesday over Boston came down to both timely defense and the Bucks’ ability to contain Celtics leading scorer Jayson Tatum. He finished with 18 points and shot just 1-of-6 from 3-point range.

Tatum is averaging 24.8 points per game.

Wednesday marked the third consecutive game in which Tatum scored below his average. Boston’s record in those contests is 1-2.

The Celtics are 1-5 over their last six, including a loss Monday at Memphis in which Tatum did not play. The current skid has dropped Boston to two games below .500, and eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Boston has struggled with digging holes in this rough patch. At Memphis, the Celtics needed a 10-point, fourth-quarter rally to force overtime. They trailed at halftime in a home loss March 19 to Sacramento, and they went down 15 points at intermission in a March 17 loss at Cleveland.

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“We gotta come out and be better,” Walker said following Wednesday’s loss. “We’re going to learn from our mistakes, we’re going to stay together through this tough time and we’re going to get it right.”

A positive for the Celtics in their loss to Milwaukee was their defense on reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they held to 13 points. Surrendering 27 points to Khris Middleton and 21 to Bobby Portis off the bench, however, made up the difference of Antetokounmpo scoring nearly 16 points fewer than his average.

–Field Level Media

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