Celtics guard Jaylen Brown drives to the basket past Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo during the first half of Boston’s 119-116 win on Wednesday night at TD Garden. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

BOSTON — Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday insisted Wednesday night’s showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks was just any other game, even though they just traded him less than two months ago.

Boston Coach Joe Mazzulla echoed those sentiments. Though he recognized the hype of the Eastern Conference’s top two teams squaring off, he wants the Celtics to treat every game the same. And after a lackluster end to their road trip that concluded with an awful overtime loss to the Hornets, he was more worried about his team growing.

But even if they’re not interested in making any early-season statements, the Celtics sent a message Wednesday at TD Garden, that they are the frontrunners in the East until proven otherwise.

In a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview, the Celtics drew first blood. In a battle of new-look rosters, Boston’s showed it is ahead of Milwaukee’s in the early stages of the season. The Celtics did not make things easy on themselves, as their late-game execution was shaky again, but fueled by a dominant start, they held on for a 119-116 Bucks in front of a boisterous crowd.

Jaylen Brown scored 26 points – which included some highlight-reel dunks – and added eight assists in a terrific bounce-back effort, Jayson Tatum had 23 points and the bench came up big in stretches as the Celtics responded from Monday’s bad defeat in Charlotte. They held Bucks star Giannis Antetekounmpo to 21 points on 7-for-20 shooting, and newcomer Damian Lillard to 27 points on 24 shots. The Bucks made a late surge, but the Celtics kept their composure in the final minute to claim a big victory.

Hoilday had a poor shooting night (1-for-8), but contributed eight rebounds.


PORZINGIS’ BIG GAME: Kristaps Porzingis got his introduction to the Celtics rivalry against the Bucks firsthand on Wednesday night. The big man gave the Boston crowd plenty to cheer about with 21 points and six rebounds over 27 minutes in the Boston victory.

Porzingis put on a show with Brown for one stretch of the game in the third quarter where the duo played off each other to combine on dunks on several possessions. However, it was on the defensive end of the floor where Porzingis made a more surprising impact. The big man served as a valuable rim protector for much of the evening, bothering Antetokounmpo with some timely help defense, leading to a lackluster night (7-of-20) for the big man.

In his first taste of the rivalry between the two teams, Porzingis couldn’t help but acknowledge how much he enjoyed being a part of it.

“I thought it was great,” Porzingis said. “Obviously, the fans and everybody in the building knew that this is the number one and number two seed playing against each other, and that just adds more fuel to the atmosphere. And our friends here in this building are incredible. And yeah, the energy was there. We played hard. They made a good push at the end and almost made a comeback, but we held strong and JT knocked on those free throws at the end, and we sealed the game, and that’s it. But definitely, you know a good team to measure ourselves against.”

The big man acknowledged after earning his league-leading seventh technical foul on Wednesday night that he needs to reel in his emotions in front of the passionate crowd.

“It’s definitely, you know, it adds more fuel to the passion that I have for the game and to play hard and you wanna make the right play for your team and for your teammates,” he said. “Sometimes you just go a little bit too emotional, but work in progress.”


BENCH PLAYERS KEY: When the Celtics built up their commanding lead in the first half, they got a significant lift from their bench players. Mazzulla elected to go with a playoff-style eight-man rotation against the Bucks, showing some urgency for the marquee showdown between two East favorites.

As expected, the three bench players were Al Horford, Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard – those three have been the consistent contributors this season. And they were all valuable for a Celtics squad where bench scoring is a question mark on a nightly basis. All three bench players scored in double-figures, combining for 31 bench points.

The Celtics as a whole hit their 3-pointers Wednesday, finishing 40.5% from beyond the arc. And the bench players all stepped up that department. Hauser scored 10 points on 2-for-3 3-point shooting; Pritchard had another 10 points and was 2 for 4 on 3-pointers; and Al Horford was 2 for 3 from 3 and put up 11 points.

“I just like the pace in which we play tonight and how we move the ball,” Horford said of the bench. “And I think that (Jayson Tatum) and (Jaylen Brown) did a really good job, very early identifying the double teams, the overhelp, and they made those guys pay. So they sprayed the ball. We made the right plays from that that point.”

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