Today is the day; the Milwaukee Bucks start their playoff journey against the Boston Celtics right at noon (central). This afternoon’s contest is the first of the seven-game series, one that many fans expect to lose but hope to win. If you ask me, though...
If you’re looking for an official Bucks playoff prediction, I’ve got it right here for you:— Mitchell Maurer (@Mitchell_NBA) April 14, 2018
Milwaukee’s best players are all healthy. Boston’s are not. The coaching gap matters, but talent matters more. Giannis >>> everyone else.
Bucks in 6. And that’s not just for the culture.
Milwaukee enters this game with the bitter taste of a 35-point beating from the Philadelphia 76ers in their mouths, but they are also entering the playoffs 7-4 in their last 11 games (dating back to March 23). Additionally, everybody on the nominal roster is healthy and cleared to play for the first time in a long time. Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Eric Bledsoe have been full speed ahead for some time now, and Jabari Parker has been playing sparse minutes but has maintained a steadily-increasing workload. Matthew Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon might not have their stamina back up to 100%, but both have returned from injury successfully. With a full crew, the Bucks’ only challenge is to ramp up their energy and effort to playoff levels.
Player to Watch: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis isn’t just the Bucks’ MVP, but he’s a real-life contender for the league-wide award. Against Boston, Giannis has both the opportunity and the burden of carrying the team, despite the presence of capable supporting players. However, Giannis has been up to the task thus far in 2017-18, per basketball-reference.com:
The Bucks split the series 2-2 with Boston, but through no fault of Giannis, who for the four games averaged 33.5 points (shooting 53.9% from the field and 85.7% from the line), 10.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.8 steals, while playing 38.5 minutes. Most notably, Giannis averaged 10.5 free throw attempts against the Celtics, a trend that should continue as Boston packs the lane and the playoff pace slows the game down.
Boston’s 16-game winning streak feels like forever ago, and the Celtics have been decidedly more dicey than they were earlier in the season. After winning six straight, Boston has gone 2-4 to close out the season, including an April 3 loss to the Bucks. Over at CelticsBlog, head coach Brad Stevens is being billed as the key to Boston’s success, as he’s been the architect for their success this year, particularly on defense. But without his top shot creators available, Stevens will be hard-pressed to get his guys keep up with Milwaukee’s surprisingly-efficient offense. The Cs have been dealing with the absence of Kyrie Irving for some time now, and that of Gordon Hayward for even longer, but Marcus Smart has also missed time with a thumb injury, and Terry Rozier will be returning today from a finger injury of his own.
Player to Watch: Al Horford
Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum have earned a lot of attention going into this series, but Big Al is the lynchpin of Boston’s league-leading defense, and will be the primary source of resistance to Giannis’ forays to the rim. Horford is nearly 32, but is still one of the few players both quick enough and strong enough to physically deter Giannis. Moreover, Horford demonstrates fantastic defensive timing and is an excellent defensive communicator, which more than makes up for his lackluster rebounding abilities.