Kyrie Irving Shines in Celtics Win over Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistNovember 2, 2018

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 1: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics drives against Eric Bledsoe #6 of the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden on November 1, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Bucks' 82-0 dream is over.

Kyrie Irving scored 28 points and Al Horford added 18 points and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics to a 117-113 win over Milwaukee on Thursday.

Boston knocked down a franchise-record 24 threes and held the Bucks to a 9-of-29 mark from distance. The Celtics exploded for a 38-point third quarter and held on in the fourth to drop Milwaukee to 7-1 on the season.

The Bucks were the NBA's lone remaining unbeaten after defeating the Toronto Raptors on Monday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, who returned from a concussion, had 33 points and 11 rebounds. He has recorded six double-doubles in seven games, and the lone exception he was limited to 19 minutes against the Orlando Magic.

Khris Middleton Is Bucks' Most Important Player

Keywords: most important. Not best. 

The Bucks know what they're getting out of Giannis, a two-way marvel at the peak of his athletic prowess who is helping redefine what someone his height can do on a basketball court. Giannis is the constant, the superstar, the MVP candidate.

For the Bucks to be an Eastern Conference contender, Khris Middleton needs to be a true second banana. He was anything but that in the Bucks' biggest game of the season. Middleton turned in his worst performance of the campaign, making just six of his 18 shots on his way to 16 points.

He added three turnovers, including a critical one with the Bucks down two points in the final minute.

There's no need to overreact. It was one bad game in a hostile environment. It happens to every NBA player. Middleton has been sensational in the macro this season, putting up the type of numbers that will probably earn him upward of $25 million a year this summer.

The Bucks were still in the game despite Middleton and Eric Bledsoe having bad nights. That's a good sign. But these are not the same Celtics that will show up in May, and it was clear how much the Bucks need Middleton at the top of his game. 

Semi Ojeleye Has Earned More Playing Time

Semi Ojeleye has been stapled to the end of Boston's bench all season, losing out in the big man shuffle behind Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes as the Celtics keep things small. Ojeleye got a spot start in place of an injured Jaylen Brown and did the most with his time, putting up 10 points, five rebounds and two steals in 22 minutes.

A Celtics fan favorite, Ojeleye brought the crowd to its feet with two jaw-dropping dunks, including an alley-oop finish from Jayson Tatum. But more importantly, he played solid defense and knocked down a pair of threes. 

The Celtics have depth, so Ojeleye isn't going to get a ton of minutes. If he keeps flashing the way he did Thursday, though, Brad Stevens is going to have to take a long, hard look at getting him 10 to 12 minutes consistently. 


Jayson Tatum Not Ready for Superstar Responsibility (Yet)

The Celtics looked like Tatum's team the first three games of the season. He appeared confident in a larger role, was scooping up rebounds and piling up points and legitimately looked like he could emerge as Boston's best player.

That hasn't been the case in the five games since. Tatum has missed more shots than he's made in each of the last five contests and has only hit the 20-point mark once. Irving has retaken his place as the focal point of the offense, and Tatum has dropped back into an almost identical role to the one he played a year ago. His shooting splits are actually worse than they were when he was a rookie.

It's an eight-game sample, so we can't get too wrapped up in anything. It's just fair to wonder how much the Celtics' egalitarian system will affect Tatum's growth. Most young players of Tatum's capability would be taking a leap in their second season because their team would be tossing them into the deep end and making them swim.

Tatum has stepped up every time the Celtics have asked him to take on more responsibility. The fact it hasn't continued on a consistent basis just means we might need to pump the brakes on handing him the car keys full-time. 

Tatum will get there. It just might be slower than some Celtics fans hoped. (Same for Jaylen Brown.)


What's Next?

The Celtics travel to Indiana for a matchup with the Pacers on Saturday. The Bucks host the Sacramento Kings on Sunday.