Celtics on cruise control; Bucks trying to preserve No. 2 seed

By Thomson Reuters Apr 8, 2024 | 11:54 AM

The Milwaukee Bucks will attempt to end a four-game losing streak when they host the Boston Celtics on Tuesday.

The Bucks (47-31) have lost six of their past seven, and the four straight losses represent their longest skid of the season. Milwaukee is trying to hold off the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics (62-16) have clinched the No. 1 seed.

“We’re not a losing team,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We don’t have that mentality. That’s not in us. … This is not what we do. We’ve got to be better.”

Antetokounmpo missed Friday’s 117-111 loss to Toronto with a hamstring issue, but returned to the lineup Sunday and had 28 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists in a 122-109 loss to New York.

The Bucks had a 61-50 lead at halftime, but New York outscored Milwaukee by 15 in the third period.

“Just came out flat,” Milwaukee coach Doc Rivers said. “I wish I knew why, but we did.

“We get so stubborn with the ball and it doesn’t move. You can get away with that against some teams, but most teams you can’t — especially playoff teams.”

Milwaukee didn’t have Khris Middleton for most of Sunday’s game after he was hit in the mouth in the second quarter. He was taken to the locker room and didn’t return to the game, and afterward, Rivers said Middleton had a tooth knocked out.

Middleton is averaging 15.0 points per game and is the team’s No. 3 scorer — the latest injury for the team.

“Just tough luck,” Rivers said. “Not good, but it is what it is.

“This team is too talented, in my opinion, to go through this no matter who’s been in and out. Every team has guys out, so I have to figure it out.”

The Celtics have been on cruise control since they secured the NBA’s best record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Boston coach Joe Mazzulla has been resting his top players in the fourth quarter recently, but it hasn’t prevented the team from winning. The Celtics will enter Tuesday’s matchup on a five-game winning streak.

“The chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and we’ve got no weak links,” Mazzulla said following Boston’s 124-107 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

Jayson Tatum, who is averaging a team-high 27.0 points per game, didn’t play Sunday because of a right knee contusion. Jaylen Brown led Boston with 26 points. Brown, who is in his eighth season, scored the 10,000th point of his NBA career in the third quarter.

“The type of guy that he is, the hard work that he puts in and the growth that he’s shown this year to become a complete player at both ends of the floor, I know he’s happy about that,” Mazzulla said. “It’s cool to be able to coach guys that get to those type of milestones and be a part of that.”

Boston has won two of the three meetings with Milwaukee this season. Both victories came in Boston. The Bucks prevailed 135-102 when the teams played in Milwaukee on Jan. 11.

“We have four games left, all against playoff teams,” Rivers said. “Maybe that’s a blessing for us. I don’t know. We’ll find out.”

–Field Level Media