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Khris Middleton — 27 points, 11-for-20 shooting, 13 rebounds, 4 assists

Middleton and Bobby Portis were crucial and had plenty of looks due to the Celtics’ defensive game plan. But once again, as always seems to be the case, Middleton was the Celtics killer down the stretch. The Celtics just seem to have had nothing for him over the years, and Wednesday was no different.

What it means
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The Celtics looked dead in the water as late as the second half — angry, frustrated and yet somehow still somewhat lifeless.

But Kemba Walker made the game respectable with a flurry of offense in the third quarter, and the Celtics appeared re-energized. They got some stops, scored some transition baskets and even had a couple of chances to tie or take the lead.

The Celtics deserve some credit for battling back. They deserve some criticism for letting the game get out of control. They deserve some leeway — half the players on the roster can’t confidently say they know they’ll be on the team by 3:01 p.m. tomorrow.

But wins and losses are a zero-sum game, and Wednesday was a loss. Whatever mitigating circumstances the Celtics can claim, they are still 21-23 with another game against the Bucks on Friday.

Takeaways
1. Kemba Walker has taken a lot of criticism this season, and he took plenty for the first two quarters. Some of it was deserved — he had four turnovers midway through the third. But Walker responded impressively and performed the task the Celtics have so desperately need him to perform all year: He relieved some pressure on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, stepping up while they struggled. In the fourth quarter, he buried a 3-pointer that helped the Celtics close the gap, and he punished Milwaukee for leaving him open.

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“I thought we just picked up our effort, our energy defensively,” Walker said. “That was the most important thing. And whenever we got stops, we got out and ran, and that kind of helped us and we started to get a little bit Cheap Boston Celtics Jerseys more momentum. Obviously we just didn’t do that earlier on in the game, so we’ve just got to get to the film and learn from our mistakes.”

Walker has been off and on, but he picked a great time to have perhaps his best game — and unquestionably his best half — of the season.

2. Jeff Teague has quietly played well over the last week as well — he finished with 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting on Wednesday after an impressive shooting night in the starting lineup on Monday. Teague is a streaky player, but he looks a lot more comfortable and confident recently.

3. The final play will haunt Daniel Theis for a while. Milwaukee’s defense did everything to take away looks for Brown, Tatum and Walker, and Theis sprang wide open. Theis did everything right, got a great look, shot confidently and put the ball directly online.

The shot, however, was just a little long. The Celtics bench, which had a direct angle on it, appeared to think it was good, and Theis yelled in frustration.

“He stepped in and shot it with authority,” Stevens said after the game. “It looked good.”

Watching the replay, perhaps Theis could have tried to draw a foul on Brook Lopez, who closed out hard and looked a little out of control. But before you criticize Theis, honestly ask yourself if you would have stood your ground with a 280-pound behemoth leaping directly at you, and if you answered “yes,” ask yourself why you are lying.

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4. Jayson Tatum returned to the lineup after missing Monday’s game with an illness, but he didn’t look like himself — 18 points on 7-for-19 shooting (1-for-6 from three).

5. The Celtics sold out trying to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo in the paint with mixed results. Antetokounmpo finished with just 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting, but Milwaukee finished with six players in double figures, including Khris Middleton’s 27 points on 11-for-20 shooting. The Bucks revolve around Antetokounmpo, but they have a lot of players who can score as well. It will be interesting to see if Stevens employs a similar strategy on Friday hoping to avoid a similarly imposing deficit.