Celtics’ weakness in one key area gave the Bucks a new life in Game 5

BOSTON — The Celtics led the Milwaukee Bucks by 14 points with 10 minutes remaining Wednesday night at TD Garden. A Game 5 victory and a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals seemed all but a formality.

So, what happened?

“We box out, we win the game,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart lamented after watching Milwaukee storm back to hand Boston a stunning 110-107 loss.

Celtics-Bucks takeaways: Milwaukee stuns C’s late to steal Game 5

Smart was one of five Celtics players who had a chance to secure the rebound on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s missed free throw with the Bucks down one and 14 seconds remaining. But the ball ricocheted off Smart to Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis, who converted his seventh offensive rebound into a go-ahead layup.

You could argue Boston got a bad bounce there. But luck can’t account for the Bucks recording 17 offensive rebounds to the Celtics’ five in what proved to be the deciding factor of a pivotal Game 5.

“That’s what it ultimately comes down to,” Smart added. “They did a good job of getting their team extra shots, and they hit them and they made us pay.”

Game 5 wasn’t an anomaly, though. In their last two games without big man Robert Williams, the Celtics have been outbounded 30-9 on the offensive glass. Milwaukee’s massive frontcourt of Brook Lopez, Antetokounmpo and Portis have feasted in the paint against Boston’s smaller lineups, leading the Bucks to a 58-to-37 edge in offensive rebounds for the series.

Milwaukee’s big lineups have their limitations, which the Celtics have exploited in this series by using quick ball movement to generate open 3-pointers. But in Game 5, that “advantage” was negated by the Bucks repeatedly getting second chances on offense after Boston failed to grab rebounds.

Missed opportunities

Bucks’ second-chance points in series

Celtics’ second-chance points in series

“The story of the game,” Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said of Milwaukee’s offensive rebounding. “They had 17 (offensive boards) for 20 second-chance points, and a large majority of those came in the second half.”

That’s 14 second-chance points in the second half, to be exact, including nine in the fourth quarter thanks in large part to Portis’ four offensive rebounds over the final 12 minutes.

“We’ve got to be better boxing out,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said. “They attacked the glass and got offensive rebounds. … They’re a big, physical team, and we’ve known that all series. We’ve just got to be more aware of that. Hit bodies and grab the ball. “

It’s unclear whether Robert Williams will be able to play in Friday’s Game 6, and he clearly wasn’t 100 percent on the court in Games 1 through 3. He still helped the Celtics battle the Bucks to an offensive-rebound stalemate in those games, though (28 to 28), so Boston certainly could use him Friday in Milwaukee.

The Bucks haven’t been a great offensive team in this series, so if the Celtics limit Milwaukee to one shot per possession as much as possible, they have a good chance of forcing a Game 7. But if they lose the offensive boards battle, there’s a good chance their season ends Friday night.

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