Eighty-two games in the regular season all comes down to this matchup between the second seeded Boston Celtics and the seventh seeded Milwaukee Bucks. These two teams split the 4 game series 2-2 this season, with each team winning one at home and one on the road. The point differential between these two teams in the 4 games this season was just 6 points in Boston’s favor.
These two teams have met 5 times in the playoffs, with their last playoff series in 1987. In 1987, the Celtics won in the Finals 4-3. In 1983, the Bucks won in the second round 4-0. In 1984, the Celtics won in the Eastern Conference Finals 4-3. In the 1986 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics swept the series 4-0. In the second round in 1987, The Celtics won 4-3.
Greg Monroe spent 2 seasons in Milwaukee before being traded to the Suns. In 3 games against Milwaukee this season he is averaging 16.7 points and 10.7 rebounds. Jason Terry comes off the bench for the Bucks and spent 1 season with the Celtics. Tyler Zeller also comes off the bench for the Bucks ans spent 3 seasons with the Celtics.
The Bucks went 11-12 in the final 23 games after the All Star break. In spite of all the injuries, the Celtics went 15-8 in their last 23 games after the All Star break. The Bucks fired Jason Kidd as their head coach in January and Joe Prunty took over. Prunty won 2 championships as an assistant coach while he was with the San Antonio Spurs but he has just half a season of experience as a head coach.
The Celtics have a lot of doubters because they have to play short handed with Kyrie Irving (knee), Gordon Hayward (ankle), Marcus Smart (thumb) and Daniel Theis (knee) out for the series. Marcus Smart is expected back sometime around April 27th and that may help if the series goes to 7 games, but they will have to start the series without him. As of now, the Bucks have no injuries listed.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Marcus Smart (thumb) out
Al Horford vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
”The Greek Freak” is a tough cover for anyone and Al Horford will get the job of trying to slow Antetokounmpo down. Horford is a good defender and he will definitely have his hands full guarding Antetokounmpo. He averaged 33.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists against the Celtics in the 4 games this season. Antetokounmpo averaged 26.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game in the regular season. He is shooting 53.5% from the field but just 37.3% out of the painted area. Al will need to try to force him outside and keep him out of the paint.
Jayson Tatum vs Khris Middleton
Middleton is averaging 20.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.0 assists. He is shooting 35.9% from beyond the arc. Both players are good defenders and will look to make it difficult for the other to have a big game. This should be a good matchup to watch.
Terry Rozier vs Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe has been playing very well for the Bucks since they brought him in at the trade deadline. He is averaging 17.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. He is shooting 34.7% from beyond the arc. It will be important for Rozier to play well on both ends of the court. He has to limit Bledsoe’s offense and also give the Celtics a scoring boost on the offensive end.
Celtics Bench vs Bucks Bench
With all of the injuries, the Celtics bench has been depleted. They are missing Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart, who have been big for them off the bench all season. With Terry Rozier in the starting lineup, that weakens the bench even more. The Celtics will depend heavily on veterans Marcus Morris, Greg Monroe, and Shane Larkin along with rookies Yabusele, Nader and Ojeleye. The Celtics will no longer have Jabari Bird or Jonathon Gibson who gave them a boost down the stretch. On the other hand, The Bucks have last year’s Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon, veterans Matthew Dellavedova, Brandon Jennings, Jason Terry, and Tyler Zeller coming off the bench along with Jabari Parker who is playing very well since coming back from injury.
Keys to the Game
Defense – Defense is always a key to winning. The old adage that Defense wins Championships is very true, especially as teams go into the playoffs. The Celtics have been a tough defensive team all season and finished with a defensive rating of 101.5, best in the league. The Bucks’ defensive rating is 107.1, which is 17th. On the other hand, the Bucks have an offensive rating of 107.8 (7th) while the Celtics have an offensive rating of 101.5 (18th). If the Celtics are going to win this series, it will be with their defense.
Rebound – Next to defense, rebounding will be key for the Celtics. The Celtics can’t score if they don’t have the ball. It takes effort to rebound and when the Celtics put out that extra effort to get rebounds, it usually translates to other areas of their game. The Celtics are 8th in the league with 44.5 rebounds per game while the Bucks, in spite of having Antetounmpo attacking the glass, are last with just 39.8 rebounds per game. If the Celtics continue to crash the glass as a team, they give themselves a much better chance to get a win.
Be Aggressive – The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team from start to finish. They have to be aggressive in going after loose balls and on defense and going to the basket and grabbing rebounds. The more aggressive team usually gets the benefit of the calls also. They need to be the team that wants it more for all 48 minutes. No let up. The Bucks may have the biggest star and more talent due to the Celtics injuries, but the Celtics have to be the team with more fight and that plays harder.
Move the Ball Carefully – he Celtics have shown some very good ball movement at times and at other times, the ball seems to stick and players try to do too much. When the ball sticks, it rarely ends well. When the Celtics move the ball and find the open man, they are tough to beat. However, the Celtics must make careful passes as the Bucks are 2nd in steals with 8.8 per game and 2nd in points off turnovers with 18.3 per game. The Celtics have to be careful with the ball because if they get careless and turn it over, the Bucks will make them pay.
Some analysts have said that this is the biggest match up in the series. Stevens has been lauded as one of the top coaches in the league and is a candidate for the coach of the year. In spite of injuries disrupting the lineup all season long, Brad has kept the team on an even keel and winning. Prunty has less than half a season in as head coach, in spite of his seasons as an assistant. Brad took a rag-tag Celtics team to the ECF last season while this is Prunty’s first experience as head coach in the playoffs. The Celtics will need rad to work more of his magic if they are to win this series.
Home Court Advantage
Teams play all season to have home court advantage in the playoffs. During the season, the Celtics actually had a better road record (28-13) than home record (27-14). The Bucks, however, were a much better team at home (25-16) than on the road (19-22). The Celtics will depend on the Garden crowd to be loud and give them a boost while also rattling the Bucks. The shirts given out at the game say 18624 Strong and the Celtics will need every one of them to be their loud Sixth man today.