Bucks’ Big Man Speaks up on Improving Celtics Defense

Celtics Jayson Tatum (left) and Marcus Smart (36) guard Giannis Antetokounmpo

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 25: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts after being fouled by Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics during the third quarter at the TD Garden on December 25, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images)

BOSTON — With just shy of 50 games left — before the REAL NBA games begin — it’s probably foolish to draw anything definitive or truly predictive from the Celtics‘ 139-118 Christmas Day victory over the Bucks.

Other than maybe it would be fun to have this rematch in a best-of-seven format next May. They own the two best records in the league and don’t figure to stray much from that neighborhood as the weather gets warmer (maybe/hopefully/please).

“Yeah, but they played very well,” Milwaukee center Brook Lopez told Heavy Sports afterward when it was suggested this meeting wouldn’t necessarily carry much weight going forward. “It was a good barometer for both of us. It was still a good learning experience.”

Perhaps most interesting from the Bucks’ locker room is that they were talking about the need to do better against Boston’s defense– this after posting five and a half points more than their season average coming in and shooting a crisp 50% from the floor.

Giannis Antetokounmpo spoke of improvements that need to be made against the Celtics’ vaunted switching defense after he went for for 27 points, which, while still far from shabby, is four short of his average. More damaging to Milwaukee were its 15 turnovers that Boston rolled into 22 points.

“I mean, they’re a good defensive team,” Lopez told Heavy. “I don’t know if they’re really different. I guess they’re different in that they’re a very good defensive team rated higher than a lot of other teams. They’ve got a lot of good individual defensive pieces, and they play well together. They’re a deep defensive team.”

Exec on Blake Griffin: ‘He Can Still Play’

One NBA exec came to praise Blake Griffin, but first he wanted to have a little fun with the 33-year-old big man who’s been playing a supporting role with Boston — his third team in the last three years.

The source was talking about the trouble the Celtics had on their recent trip out West and referred to Griffin choosing a softer lay-in of sorts for the first hoop against the Lakers.

“Hey, look, when you’re starting him and he has a nice little scruff dunk to start the game …” he said of the game in L.A. when neither Robert Williams nor Al Horford played. “I remember when that guy used to tear the rim down. The wear and tear of NBA life has him now scruff dunking — with runway. It wasn’t like he was going up off two feet. He was moving. I said, ‘Ooh, Father Time has chased him down a little bit.’

“But, seriously, he can still play. That was probably a bad example, because he can still help them. He’s big and strong, and he gives them another body he can throw into the mix and give them physicality, and, like I said, he can still play. But if he was still at a regular starter level, he’d have never been available to Boston.”

Griffin’s role remains small when Williams and Horford are available, but coach Joe Mazzulla found a need for him against Milwaukee, giving him six minutes against Giannis and the Bucks and citing his physicality.

Payton Pritchard Drawing Trade Interest

Payton Pritchard is attracting some attention.

His minutes were expected to take a hit with the acquisition of Malcolm Brogdon, and it appears he’s been pushed out of the rotation entirely when the Celtics are at full point guard-capable strength. With Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Brogdon around, Pritchard is left to mop-up minutes. He is, of course, summoned for more in the case of injury or illness to others, as when he started against Indiana (Mazzulla wanted to keep Brogdon with the second group where he can get more shots) and was a plus-1 in 17 minutes of a five-point loss.

Not surprisingly, Pritchard’s new situation has other teams sniffing around. Clubs have been investigating whether he might be worth pursuing in a trade (he makes $2.2 million this year and $4.0 million next).

“You’ve got to wonder about him defensively at that size (listed at 6-1), but he plays hard, he can really push the ball and he’s got a nice stroke from 3,” said one personnel man. “I like what I see, but it’s hard to say for sure if he could do more with a better opportunity. And first you have to ask if he’s better than what you have and if he’ll even get more of a look with your team. It’s hard to say, but I know I’m not the only team checking on him. It’s always natural in these situations.”


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