Last night, Dennis Schroder looked like an $84 million player, not the player who signed with the Celtics at the end of the summer for the mid-level exception. In front of a national television audience and the TD Garden faithful, he looked like the Sixth Man of the Year candidate that reinvigorated his career in Oklahoma City, not the mercurial point guard that left the Lakers.
Schroder scored a season-high 38 points with three assists in a 122-113 overtime win against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. Like the Celtics as a whole, he had been trending up over the last week and on Friday night, he put together his game in Boston so far.
“He’s finding his way. He’s brought his bench role to the starting lineup. He’s been very aggressive,” head coach Ime Udoka said. “We liked some of the matchups he had early and he got going. We continue to let those guys know the mismatches isn’t always for yourself. He was penetrating and making nice passes. He did a little bit of both, but he got hot late and we rode his hand there.”
In the extra frame, it was Schroder, not Jayson Tatum, carrying the scoring load late with eight of the Celtics’ final 14 points. With the Celtics up just one with two and a half minutes to go in OT, Schroder had two consecutive possessions with Bucks big man Bobby Portis switched on to him.
On the first, he hit a late-clock three pointer from the top of the arc. On the second, he broke Portis down off the dribble and hit a left-handed floater. On the next trip down the floor, he went to the free throw line the Garden crowd showering him with MVP chants.
“It was big. Obviously, we needed it,” Tatum said of Schroder’s late game heroics. “I said it the other day: when we got guys out, whether it’s JB or whatever, rather than myself, more guys are going to have an opportunity. We definitely needed it tonight.”
Jaylen Brown missed his third game with a strained right hamstring, but Schroder has filled in nicely as a starter in Brown’s absence, averaging 26 points and 4 assists in Boston’s undefeated homestand. But by his own admission, he didn’t have a perfect game. After giving up eight turnovers against Toronto on Wednesday, Schroder coughed up the ball six times to the Bucks. On the Celtics recent three-game road trip to Orlando, Miami, and Dallas, he registered only five TO’s total.
“Too many turnovers today again. Day before as well. I gotta work on that,” Schroder admitted.
But when he’s at his best, he’s a microcosm of what this Celtics team wants to be and what they’re already becoming. “I just gotta be comfortable pushing the pace on the offensive end. Everybody just has to play free and have fun and play. That’s when we’re at our best,” Schroder said, describing his and his team’s best self. “I think that’s what we did tonight and the last couple of games. Playing on the defensive end, be scrappy, try to get steals, rebound, and then on the offensive end, try to run, and try to get easy buckets.