On Sunday, Milwaukee will begin its series against the Boston Celtics for the chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The teams certainly have a history with each other after last year’s playoffs, but offer decisively different looks this time around. We were able to have Jeff Clark from our pals at Celtics Blog to answer a couple of questions for this series.
So last year the Celtics didn’t have Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, how will both of their availability help the Celtics?
Such an innocent question but one that has become a loaded one throughout the year. In theory adding two max level stars should have taken this team to the next level. Instead, it confused roles and limited touches for players that grew accustomed to more touches on offense. Hayward’s slow return to form hampered things quite a bit and Kyrie struggled with his new role as face of the franchise. However, both have made strides and the team seems to be settling in around them at the right time. If nothing else, Hayward gives the Celtics a dynamic two-way player and Irving is one of the best closers in the game. As long as all the other pieces fall into place around them, this team has more potential than last year’s squad.
What has been the biggest issue that has caused Boston to underachieve this year?
Success and the burden of expectations: Guys like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier got some major shine last season and they spent all summer basking in the glow of it. All of that fueled a preseason hype machine that set the bar so high that when the team finally tried to make the leap, they stumbled, slipped, and smacked their heads on the bar. Tatum struggled with shot selection (thanks a lot Kobe), Brown struggled with defensive focus (he got lots of helpful hints from his teammates in animated discussions on and off the court), and Rozier has just been all over the map (both bad shots and inconsistent defense). Add in a recovering Gordon Hayward and a few injuries to Al Horford and you’ve got a recipe for inconsistency.
Terry Rozier had a breakout series, do we expect the same this year or who is someone that will catch the Bucks off guard?
Yes, of course Rozier will be exactly the star that he looked like last year. Yup. Unless... well, unless he believes he can do the same things as he did last year (with a lot fewer touches). Or unless Eric Bledsoe has improved. Or unless Rozier takes a few bad shots and compounds that with bad defense and spirals out of control giving up a 20-point run to the Bucks. But you know, I’m sure none of that will happen and he’ll be looking like a star again.
Seriously though, with Marcus Smart out of the lineup, Rozier actually thrived in the first round by playing a sort of Smart-lite role of heady defense, ball movement, and opportunistic shooting. He could very well have a big impact on the series, but his inconsistency this season makes me wonder exactly what kind of impact it will be.
What is the matchup that you are interested in the most?
Personally I’m intrigued by how the Celtics plan on matching up with Brook Lopez. Aron Bynes doesn’t have the mobility to chase him around the perimeter and that would pull him away from his comfort area in the paint. You might see the Celtics put Gordon Hayward on him, which frees up Al Horford and Marcus Morris to take turns standing in the way of the freight train that is Giannis Antetokounmpo. On the other end of the floor, if the Celtics go smaller, that could be a matchup concern for Lopez to worry about. I could see both coaches get creative and mix and match lineups to push things toward their own advantages here.
Prediction time! Who wins and in how many games?
On one hand, I feel like this could go in any direction and a complete collapse by the Celtics is theoretically on the table. However, I also think that the team is coming together at the right time and has so much talent and playoff experience that they’ll figure out how to make this a long series. Call me a homer if you like, but I’m picking the Celtics in 7. Looking forward to it!
Thanks to Jeff for answering a few of these questions. Be sure to check out Celtics Blog website to see our perspective on the series.