Moral victories do not exist in the NBA. They don’t need to exist in an 82-game schedule.
But some defeats occasionally show how good a team is.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ 117-113 loss to the Boston Celtics on Thursday night did exactly that.
Yes, the Bucks lost. But the truth is they had no business being in the game down the stretch and having chances at tying field goals or free throws.
Not on a night when the Celtics obliterated the team record for 3-pointers made in a game with 24.
Boston led by as many as 16 points in the third quarter and by 13 heading into the fourth. Marcus Morris’ 3-pointer with 1:16 left in the third gave the Celtics a team-record 20 triples for the game. They added four more in the fourth quarter.
Yet despite a 45-point advantage from behind the arc, the Celtics had to sweat out three possessions in the final minute in which the Bucks could have either tied with a deuce or taken the lead with a three.
Khris Middleton lost the ball out of bounds as he tried to post up Kyrie Irving with 51 seconds left. Giannis Antetokounmpo missed a reverse layup with 19 second left. And Eric Bledsoe missed 1 of 2 free throws with 12.8 seconds left.
Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 33 points and 11 rebounds. Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon added 16 each. Middleton got off to a slow start but nailed two cold-blooded threes during the fourth-quarter rally.
Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 28 points and made 6 of 12 from behind the arc.
All told, the Celtics outscored the Bucks, 72-27, on 3-pointers. Yet the Bucks nearly overcame that 45-point disadvantage. In fact, had Antetokounmpo been able to finish while being fouled with 4 seconds left, his free throw would have tied the game.
Yes, the Celtics won this one. But they dodged a bullet on a night they set a team record for 3-pointers made. That shows just how strong these Milwaukee Bucks are right now. Bucks teams of years past would have lost by 25 on a night the opponent made 24 3-pointers.
Fear the Deer, indeed.