Milwaukee begins their playoffs tomorrow against the second seeded Boston Celtics. The former playoff rivals had started the season with much promise with the additions of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. Despite the injuries, Boston was still able to be one of the best in the Eastern Conference. We decided to reach out to Bill over at CelticsBlog, the Boston SBNation affiliate, to discuss expectations, keys for either side, and a prediction for the series.
After the latest injury blow to Kyrie Irving, what are the fans expectations for the Celtics for this series and the playoffs?
They’re fully invested in this rag tag team. Sure, they’ll be missing Kyrie, Hayward, Smart, and Theis, but Brad Stevens’ teams have always embraced their underdog rep. There’s excitement around the young guys--Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier--and the expectations are that they’ll respond to the pressures of the playoffs. The truth is, our side of the bracket sans Toronto, Cleveland, and Washington is wide open. It’s four young teams and one of them will be in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics have been winning improbable game after improbable game all year. Why stop now?
What are the keys for the Celtics to win?
Defense. The NBA has turned into a league that emphasizes switchability and small ball, but Milwaukee poses a unique problem because of their length. Against Golden State, you could live with Tatum switching onto Steph Curry or Jaylen Brown checking Draymond. With the Bucks, I see the Celtics packing in the paint more--maybe even running some zone defense that they’ve been successfully employing to close the regular season--and daring Milwaukee to beat them in the mid-range. If Boston can limit their restricted area FGA’s to the mid-20’s, they’ll have a good chance winning this series.
What are the keys for the Bucks to win?
Effective point guard play. Stevens will do everything he can to neutralize Milwaukee’s length, but the Bucks’ depth at point guard is a problem. Rozier is a plus defender, but keeping Bledsoe from turning the corner is going to be difficult and Brogdon can bully smaller guards like Shane Larkin and effectively invert the floor for slashers like Antetokounmpo and Middleton. Delly always keeps his dribble alive in the paint and is pretty clever around the rim. Any of those three can get it going and because of Boston’s lack of PG defenders, that’s a pressure point Prunty can exploit.
Besides Giannis, who is the biggest threat for Milwaukee? Who is Boston’s x-factor?
For Milwaukee, it’s going to be Khris Middleton and it won’t even be on the offensive end. He’s a skilled scorer that can do it on all three levels, but if he and Tony Snell can keep Tatum and Brown in check, that could be a huge dent in the Celtics’ scoring. For Boston, the x-factor could be Semi Ojeleye. Since the injury bug decimated the roster, the rookie has stepped up as a versatile defender off the bench. He’s found a lot of success guarding 4’s, particularly against Giannis. He’s found his stroke from behind the arc, but a handful of threes from him is gravy if he can play fifteen minutes a night of solid team D.
What is your prediction for this series?
Celtics in 6. Every postseason, Brad Stevens throws in some quirky adjustment that throws off the other team. Whether it was starting Gerald Green last year vs. the Bulls or plugging in Jonas Jerebko the year before against Atlanta, unsung players have blossomed out of their traditional roles and won playoff games. It’s going to be an ugly series with both teams going through shooting slumps, but in the end, the Bucks exit the playoffs and say goodbye to the Bradley Center in Game 6.
We thank Bill for his time and answering our questions. Make sure to follow his work and Celtics Blog throughout the series over @Celticsblog. I was also able to chip in and answer their questions over at celticsblog.com.