Celtics Go Out Without a Fight
MILWAUKEE -- A season’s worth of low energy finally went empty.
Brad Stevens’ most talented team, also his most disappointing, did nothing to dress up its reputation with Wednesday night’s 116-91 loss to the Bucks in Game 5 of the conference semifinals.
After reaching the conference finals each of the last two seasons with far less natural ability, the Celtics quietly accepted elimination.
The Celtics hurried off to the airport, and a self-searching summer for all involved. From Kyrie Irving, whose Boston future is cloudy indeed, to Celtics president Danny Ainge, back home recovering from a mild heart attack as he pores over the many ways this team could change before next season.
Irving, true to the boast that he should have put up 30 attempts in Game 4, mined that territory all night in what may very well be his last game as a Celtic. He was pulled early in the fourth quarter after scoring 15 points on a remarkably inefficient 6-for-21 performance that will remind Knicks fans, possibly his next public, of vintage Carmelo Anthony.
The Celtics opened with a 23.1-percent first quarter and never got appreciably better offensively, mining sub-30-percent territory the rest of the way.
Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, in one of the true lowlights in the brief history of this trio, shot a combined 13-for-43.
That number offered as grim an epitaph as any for this under-performing team.
The Celtics allowed a six-shot possession late in the third, somehow without the Bucks scoring, but still polishing off the quarter with a 9-2 run for an 80-62 lead.
The Celtics, very much on the ropes, watched Malcolm Brogdon score for Milwaukee’s first 20-point lead of the night on the first play of the fourth.
Milwaukee continued to work on that margin, now with Guerschon Yabusele on the floor in an attempt for some late-game paint support. The Bucks had finally found their range, and as all of the players who had tormented the Celtics this month, from Giannis Antetokounmpo to Eric Bledsoe and George Hill, drove this score north, the Celtics folded for the last time this year.
A late 9-0 run gave Milwaukee a solid stake in a 52-39 lead, with a 13-point lead despite shooting just 40.9 percent. But the Celtics, shooting 25.5 percent, including a combined 11-for-34 from Irving, Horford and Hayward, were that ineffective offensively - even if Irving had a game-high 13 points.
Breaking inside that 13-point cushion would prove quite the challenge, too, even if the Bucks continued to mine the lower 40s with their shooting. Tatum got them closer, first with two free throws and then a 3-pointer that cut the Bucks lead to 45-35. Horford cut it to 10, again, from the paint a minute later.
Though the Bucks seemed incapable of putting this one away, the Celtics were so slow-developing on offense, the margin changed little. And so, with 3:27 left in the third, Smart cut the Bucks lead to 71-60 with a free throw.
The inertia wasn’t going to last forever, however, with Pat Connaughton following up two Antetokounmpo free throws with a pull-up three for a 76-60 Milwaukee lead with 2:27 left in the quarter.