Milwaukee forced the first overtime of the 2017-18 NBA playoffs, ultimately falling to Boston, 113-107. Here are three takeaways from a game that was never supposed to be this much fun:
Al Horford Was the Most Effective Player on the Court
It’s not Horford’s fault that his game is boring. He’s not a 20-and-10 guy, but that was never really his game. Charles Barkley said at halftime on the TNT broadcast that when he was averaging Horford’s stats, “they made me retire.” Horford, by the way, is in the second season of a max contract.
But alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo (who finished with 35 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists), Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown, Horford played like the biggest star on the floor. He finished with 24 points (his second-highest this season), 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and three blocks. Maybe going against Giannis brought out the flash in Horford, who proved to be an effective counterpunch to the Bucks’ do-everything big on both ends of the floor.
Boston managed without Gordon Hayward this season in large part because of Horford’s defense, but with Kyrie Irving out as well, he’ll need to be more than that. Horford is the leader of this young team by default: The Celtics’ starting lineup (Brown, Horford, Tatum, Aron Baynes, Terry Rozier) has 92 career playoff starts among it; Baynes has one, and the rest are Horford’s.
The Sixers (Or Heat) Are Going to the Eastern Conference Finals
Even with this gritty, down-to-the-wire, overtime Game 1 in the books, you’re still allowed to feel cheated by this series. This will not be the matchup it could have been with a healthy Irving—though Khris Middleton is certainly trying to make up for that. Boston’s prospects halved when Irving was declared out for the season, adding another player to an injury list that already included Hayward, Daniel Theis, and Marcus Smart (who may be available if this series goes seven games).
Meanwhile, Milwaukee has a full roster, but is no more put together. It’s a continuation of the regular season for both teams: Brad Stevens is tapping into abilities his role players didn’t even know they had, while the non-Giannis (and non-Middleton!) Bucks have potential that they haven’t been able to translate to production. Bucks coach Joe Prunty has the best player in this series, and the personnel for a playoff run. But watching a depleted Boston team adjust against Giannis, and ultimately turn Horford into the hero, is enough for me to count out whichever of these teams makes it to the next round. What Game 1 said about the series is that its participants have no chance against anyone else but their current opponent.
This Series Just Became a Must-Watch
This matchup looked like it would be the East’s worst, and thus a time for an errands break during Sunday’s slate. No series had lower stakes.
I should be dunked by Giannis for doubting that anything with Giannis would be a flop, but he was only a small part of why Bucks-Celtics turned into a must-watch. For two teams in opposite situations—one healthy and one not; one coached by a mastermind and one coached by someone not yet full-time—they are surprisingly well-matched.
We lost a level of entertainment with Kyrie’s absence, but we gained it back through Terry Rozier’s irrational confidence:
TERRY ROZIER IS A KILLER! pic.twitter.com/aHE63AsIKN— Celtics Direct (@CelticsDirect) April 15, 2018
Also, take note of Middleton, who ended with 31 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals, a block, and a 3-pointer that out-clutched Rozier.
Khris Middleton now answers what a game pic.twitter.com/LXULXuKdpy— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) April 15, 2018
Another game like that, and we may be calling him Playoff Khris.