"We were dealing with some ups and downs," Irving acknowledged, after scoring 26 points with 11 badists and seven rebounds. "But I think we have an appreciation for the group we have, we've spent at least two years together now, they're all healthy, except Smarty. [Marcus Smart, left oblique tear]. So I think we have a good rhythm of expectations between us. "
Irving played with his pedigree in the opener, making difficult shots while setting other Celtics to keep his team safe after the second quarter.
Somehow, then, Milwaukee point guard Eric Bledsoe ended up with a nightmare night: a nemesis of last year's first-round matchup, Boston guard Terry Rozier, overcame him again. And Rozier did it from the bench, because Irving's dominance came as the Celtics starter (after losing the 2018 playoffs altogether).
Meanwhile, Horford seemed to get away from the road machine, placing prime numbers (20 points, 11 rebounds, three blocked shots) just five weeks before turning 33. He and Irving clicked again and again on pick and rolls.
And Horford was even better in defense, as the main defender against Antetokounmpo in a defensive scheme that contributed enormously to the Bucks MVP candidate. One for all, all for one, and the Celtics converted Antetokounmpo's personal play area (the painting) into a no-fly zone. The Greek Freak left his biggest mark by hitting 3 of 5 triples; otherwise, Antetokounmpo threw 4 of 16 and got his minus-24 for the game with a quarter to spare.
It makes a little more sense that Horford did not sweat in the regular season. The coaches and medical staff in Boston kept him under a brief "n" wear strap, precisely so he was strong and available for performances like this.
"For me, everything intensifies so much [in the playoffs]"Horford said." The intensity of the fans … I think the level of focus increases a lot. For our group, that was something. [we] I had a bad time in the regular season.
"Once the postseason started, everyone really [bought in]. Kyrie has been in our ears even weeks before the regular season ended … about how we should prepare and be better. I think all the guys understood what he was trying to tell us and they accepted him in that challenge. "
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he has noticed an improvement in the last few days of the regular program. Last week, Stevens even cited a home game in late March against the Pacers in which he saw the Celtics finally having fun. "Intentional play and intentional details," Stevens called it.
That thing was everywhere on Sunday, along with a party decided for a full crowd at Fiserv Forum that anticipated much more. Milwaukee was outdone and outperformed in the paint, and led by only 58 seconds of the final 44 minutes of the game. They shot 34.8 percent, including 10 of 34 in 3-pointers for all those perimeter players employed expressly to keep Antetokounmpo's defenders away.
Stevens started with Marcus Morris, pulled Aron Baynes out of the bench and got a strong game from Rozier and Gordon Hayward in reserve. Eventually, the Celtics will also have to make space for Smart, if this series or its playoffs are long enough. With things as current as Copacetic, that should not upset anyone.
Getting a good start in the series was considered vital for Boston to avoid the possibility of splinters or disputes. But it turns out that the Celtics are no longer doing those things and that was what prompted the explosion of Game 1.
They talked cheerfully all season about changing the proverbial switch when they reached the playoffs. And now, it seems that they have done it.
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