Beyond the fact that there are likely lingering animosities between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks for knocking one another out of the Playoffs in consecutive reasons, there are myriad reasons why this second matchup between Eastern Conference contenders deserves center stage on your TV stands this Thursday. Let’s break them down.
- Milwaukee remains winless against their top three Eastern Conference foes
Yes, for all their bona fides (top-five in offensive/defensive rating, overwhelming foes by historical point margins, on pace for 70 wins) the Bucks remain winless against their presumed top three opponents awaiting them come Playoff time. First, it was an overtime loss to Miami, then the 116-105 loss in Boston, and then the Christmas Day unwrapping at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers. I think it’s been easy to overlook these in the wake of wins over the Lakers and Clippers to this point, but they ain’t facing those teams without dispatching the likes of Boston first. If nothing else, taking down the Celtics would stem that national narrative from taking hold that the Bucks can’t beat the East’s elite.
2. Testing Pain Points
The Celtics are built to inflict directly upon one of Milwaukee’s pain points, a gunning point guard whose quick trigger off the bounce can neutralize Eric Bledsoe bullying his way through screens. Kemba Walker gave this team fits as part of the Hornets last year, and it was deja vu with the October matchup. He went for 32 points (albeit on 7-19 shooting), but was 4/11 from deep coupled with a 14/15 performance from the line. You don’t see many point guards find their way to the line that often against this Bucks stout interior.
Regardless, he’s the type of jitterbug who can test Milwaukee’s defense in informative ways. Similarly, their switchable wings in the middle of their lineup can communicate preternaturally defensively at times. You can bet they’ll try out Marcus Smart in the Kawhi role defensively against Giannis in this one, with his fellow Celtics attacking the ball like seagulls grabbing at grub in the parking lot.
3. Exorcising Eric’s Demons
Eric Bledsoe probably felt like a somewhat new man after the Bucks toppled Boston in last year’s playoff series, but he still found himself settling into boneheaded plays that stem from random short-circuits against the Celtics. In game one, he was just coming off the rib injury that kept him out much of the preseason, which is what I’m chocking up his neutered 7-point, 5-rebound and 5-point performance to.
With Boston not boasting a menacing 1-5 defensive combo to combat any pick and roll Milwaukee may run, Bledsoe should be able to take advantage of Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter at the rim. That will depend on his aggressiveness, but that’s rarely been a problem against Boston. Translating it into useful aggressiveness, now that’s another question entirely. Like I illustrated above, his defensive game on Walker will be just as integral, perhaps more so even, than his offensive performance.
The Bucks aren’t shooting at the rim with quite the same frequency as last season’s squad, but they’re still taking around 35% of their shots in that area with an impressive conversion rate of 67.6%. In their first game against Boston, despite the discussed weaker frontline, the Bucks took only 26% of their shots at the rim, opting instead to chuck triples. They shot 73.7% at the rim that game, so it would behoove them to try more of that come Thursday.
It’s easy to dislike a team like the Boston Celtics, especially given their jawing with Milwaukee in the Playoffs two years ago. While it may not replicate last year’s Playoff atmosphere, there should be plenty to cheer about in a game the Bucks should be invested in to emerge victorious. You can snag your tickets through this StubHub link.
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