Jimmy Butler Credit: Bill Moore photo

The Eastern conference’s top four seeds all averted upsets in the opening round of the NBA playoffs and now are trying to get past challenging opponents. The No. 1 seed Miami Heat took a 1-0 lead over the N. 4 seed Philadelphia 7ers into Game 2 last night (Wednesday) at home while the No. 2 Boston Celtics evened their series versus the Milwaukee Bucks 1-1 on their home floor on Tuesday night with a 109-86 win.

The 76ers faced the Heat in Games 1 and 2 minus uber-talented center Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a broken orbital bone after being elbowed in the face by the Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam last Thursday in Game 6 of their series. There is a possibility Embiid could return for Game 3 tomorrow in Philadelphia. The 76ers will also host the Heat in Game 4 on Sunday at home.

It was imperative the Celtics play with urgency and force in Game 2 against the Bucks after being manhandled in their 101-89 Game 1 loss on Sunday. They opened up an early double-digit lead and by halftime were up by 25 (65-40), led by forward Jaylen Brown’s 25 first half points.

“It’s the playoffs,” Brown said after ending the game with a team-high 30 points. “We can’t let one game kind of dictate how this series goes. We wanted to be aggressive from the gate.”

Celtics head coach Ime Udoka agreed. “We wanted to match their physicality and punch back tonight,” he said. “A big message was show them who we are.”

He added the Celtics were in what was virtually a do-or-die situation. “We wanted to come and play like our season was on the line and we did.” Indeed a loss to the Bucks in Game 2 would have placed the Celtics in a dire circumstance against the defending NBA champions. Now they will face the Bucks in Game 3 on Saturday in Milwaukee with a more optimistic outlook after avoiding a 2-0 deficit.

Both teams were without key players on Tuesday. The Bucks’ three-time All-Star Khris Middleton will not play in the series due to a sprained MCL in his left knee sustained in the Bucks’ opening round series against the Chicago Bulls. Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who at the start of the playoffs learned he had been named the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, sat out with a quad contusion but is expected to return for Game 3.

The Celtics’ defense made Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo exert and ultimately exhaust himself on nearly every possession. The two-time league MVP essentially physically punished the Celtics in Game 1, posting a 24-point, 13-rebound, 12-assist triple-double in Game 1. And although last season’s Finals MVP put up 28 points with nine rebounds and seven assists in Game 2, the Celtics bumped, bodied and mauled him into 11-27 shooting from the field.

Celtics guard Jayson Tatum helped close out the game after the Bucks made a late push finishing with 29 points.

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