Welcome back to yet another year of the Brew Hoop Round Table, where we ask that everybody use coasters and please don’t feed the aging pugs from the table, thanks. Today, we’re staring into our crystal ball and examining this thrilling second round matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics where Khris Middleton will miss the entire series.
Let’s get into it...how will the Bucks adapt without Khris Middleton?
Van: Others need to step into more shot creation than their roles normally ask for. Grayson Allen is probably the best candidate to replace the bucket-getting the Bucks will lack without Middleton because beyond his big series from deep against Chicago, he looked really good getting to the rim and finishing once there. Pat Connaughton could stand to do some more of this after flashing it a few times as the Bulls series concluded. This will be a lot harder against Boston, whose rotation consists of at least seven plus defenders (eight if you include Theis), but they need to generate offense any way they can in the half-court.
Kyle: Khris has notably torched the Celtics for years and this is going to hurt Milwaukee. It might be a good thing as well though as Milwaukee’s ball movement can increase with the decrease of iso-ball with Khris. It’s going to require Grayson Allen, Pat and Wes to contribute offensively but as long as Giannis and Jrue do what they need, Milwaukee can still win the series.
Adam: They’ll need Jrue Holiday to play more consistently offensively, plain and simple. Yes he’ll be shouldering a heck of a defensive load, but he needs to make the bunnies and hope his 3-point shot stays true from the regular season. On top of that, the wing players need to pay off the open shots created by the Bucks stars. One thing I’ll be watching for is whether Giannis screens for anyone else besides Jrue. The Celtics switching defense, IMO, actually makes it so being able to navigate that pick and pull-up or pass in an above average fashion is less important for the role players, what will matter is being able to competently get the ball back to Giannis against mismatches.
Mitchell: They need to lean into their height advantage. Boston isn’t necessarily a small team, but the trio of Giannis, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis have a solid 2” advantage over the Celtics’ bigs (Al Horford and Robert Williams are 6’9”, Daniel Theis is 6’8”). Placement around the court can be diagramed on an X- and Y-axis, but placement above the court lives on the Z-axis, and that’s where Milwaukee needs to make an impact. Whether it’s making shots, grabbing rebounds, or using every last smidge of space to angle the right pass to the right teammate, Milwaukee’s functional size must come through.
Riley: They will continue to start someone not named Khris Middleton in his place.
Outside of that banality, it all falls on Giannis and Jrue to orchestrate. I’m not very concerned about his loss on the defensive end as we’re a capable unit there. On the other side of the ball, Boston can theoretically slow Giannis down without fully stopping him. How does he work through this and how much help is he going to get from the rest of his merry band? Expecting the Grayson Allen’s of the world to continue to essentially boost the scoring on his own is unrealistic, but guys of his ilk have to hit shots or its going to be trench warfare (which, if that’s the case, thank goodness we have a seven-foot, 300 pound death robot available in Brook Lopez). Offense should be simplified knowing that only two guys have permission for creative license.
Morgan: The downside of having three stars is that they all can’t have the ball (@Brooklyn). Losing one star ups the usage rate for the other two, and Giannis and Jrue can certainly pay that off. The key word being can. The main reason that Khris is valuable is that we aren’t reliant on a single player when one star has an off-night. Without Khris, Giannis and Jrue have to be brilliant night in night out.
What worries you most about the Celtics?
Van: If I’m honest, it’s Smart’s physical brand of defense causing another key injury. While Smart is a very good defender and leads that unit, he’s not the most skilled stopper they have (that’s Robert Williams, when healthy) and that’s the main reason I object to him winning Defensive Player of the Year. Jrue Holiday uses his all-world on-ball instincts to inform how his body moves with or around opponents, while Smart uses his (inferior, but still good) instincts to move into them. You just know we’ll see the Celtics defend Giannis much like the Bulls did as the first round wore on.
Kyle: Besides Marcus Smart’s flopping???
Adam: Their switching scheme could lull the Bucks into too much iso-ball or forcing mismatches that don’t need them. We saw early in the Nets series last year that they tried to shovel the ball into Brook in the paint, probably to too high a degree, and those sorts of things can come at the expense of any offensive movement. Milwaukee needs to ensure they don’t get too stagnant when the switches come hot and heavy.
Mitchell: They have the type of tough shot-makers to capitalize on the gaps Milwaukee’s defense concedes. Much and more has been made of how this series will go when the Bucks have the ball...but what about Boston? Is their offense so other-worldly that they can just ignore the defensive behemoth that is the Giannis-led Bucks? They played Brooklyn and won four consecutive tough games...but the Cs will get a rude awakening when they play a team that’s not just competent defensively, but excellent.
And all that said, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the dudes who can hit the shots to overcome that defense. Beyond the possibility of Boston’s “meh” shooters hitting a hot streak, a la Fred VanVleet in 2019, that type of shot-making is what Boston needs and Milwaukee is missing.
Riley: Dudes who I have never even heard of before paying off a billion Tatum drive-and-kicks. Marcus Smart has that just-right feel for how to attack our defense when we (rightfully) give him 8-10 feet of space on the perimeter to tempt a three pointer out of him. We can feasibly knock Tatum off a rhythm through physicality, Brown the same thing... how about the second-order guys? They’ve seemed remarkably capable so far for Boston.
Morgan: Not much? They beat a discombobulated Brooklyn team by an average of 4.5 points a game. Through ESPN goggles, that means that they already won the championship. I respect their defense, but ultimately this is the Bucks’ series to lose.
For Milwaukee to beat Boston, they need to...
Van: Score on three levels and stay healthy. I’m confident in their defense after how Bud had them cooking last round, but against a much tougher Celtics unit their offense needs to be as good as we saw in Games 3–5, if not better. The Bucks also can’t afford an injury to any of their top six players, however way you want to define that.
Kyle: Take care of the ball on offense. Boston’s defense is very good and the Bucks can’t afford to just give up points or make things easy for them.
Adam: Have Giannis play at an all-world level. He’s the best player, he has the clearest advantages against the Celtics defenders, he needs to dominate this series on both ends of the court to lift the Bucks over the top.
Mitchell: It all comes back to Giannis. If he can make it so everyone views his 2021 NBA Finals run as his second-best series (to date), then Milwaukee can pull it off.
Riley: Score more points than Boston after 48 minutes of regulation time or, failing that, after the 5 minute requisite overtime periods. Further, they must do that in four out of seven possible games.
Morgan: Riley went with a Lawler’s Law-esque answer. I counter with Morgan’s Motto - if we score first four out of seven possible games, we will win.
Who will be Milwaukee’s x-factor in this series?
Van: Brook Lopez has a massive size advantage over Boston’s three big men (Al Horford, Robert Williams, Daniel Theis) and they’ve been starting two of them at a time lately. The same goes for Bobby Portis, though that trio isn’t as dwarfed and outmuscled by him. While Boston is likely to go small with Tatum at the 4, the Bucks can counter that defensively while keeping Lopez on the court alongside Giannis, then enjoy a nice disparity down low on the other end.
Kyle: In a series where you lose your go-to scorer in crunch time, someone has to be able to step up and get that bucket when things get tough. Enter Bobby Portis
Adam: I tend to agree with Van and Kyle that the Bucks big men are the most obvious x-factors, but I think Grayson Allen is going to be a solid weathervane here. He held up well enough defensively against the Bulls, but DeMar would pick on him occasionally. The Celts will likely be looking for that matchup too. Can he hold his ground, force some steals and then also pay it off on the other end with his 3-point stroke and a little wiggle off the dribble?
Mitchell: Brook Lopez, on both ends of the court. He needs to lock down the rim and challenge those in-between shots as well as use his size to score inside and shooting touch to make Boston pay from outside. If Brook can do all of that, suddenly this series has a much wider margin for error for the Bucks.
Riley: Wes Matthews? Lost in the glory that was Jrue Holiday’s hounding defensive attitude to close out the Bulls was the wing running partner who did his level best to do the same exact thing against the opposite of DeMar DeRozan/Zach LaVine. The comparison between Chicago and Boston is iffy because they’re on different talent tiers, but some fundamentals hold. In that, Wes Matthews importance in mucking up Boston’s offense remains.
(Don’t sleep on the Budenholzer v. first-time head coach Ime Udoka chess match, either. A sneaky fold, that one.)
Morgan: Jrue “Dreamboat” Holiday, specifically on offense. Giannis will get his; will Jrue get his?
What is your series prediction?
Van: Against the Nets last summer I picked Bucks in 6, then lambasted myself for foolishly getting swept up in optimism after they lost Game 2 and again after they lost Game 5. I’m not going to say I learned my lesson, because what even was that lesson? Nevertheless, I’m going with Bucks in 6 again, thinking they’ll manage to split the first two games at TD Garden and win each home game. Boston went really hard from February onward (they were .500 on January 28th) both to get back among the top six seeds and the 2 seed; as Bucks fans know, that kind of regular-season hotness is not at all guaranteed to carry through into the playoffs.
Kyle: Boston is a good team and will make some games difficult for Milwaukee. But I believe simply that Giannis will dominate this series and Jrue will make things very difficult for Tatum or Brown. Bucks in 7.
Adam: Milwaukee deserves lots of credit for everything they’ve accomplished in last year’s run. Unfortunately, they also had almost impeccable health throughout it, and already they’re trying to overtake probably their most dangerous Eastern Conference opponent down their second best player. That’s a tall task against a team playing this well. I think Giannis can take it to the brink and it ends up a coin flip, but I’ll give the nod to home court and a healthier team; Boston in 7.
Mitchell: I already wrote roughly 3,000 words on why I’m going Bucks in 6. You can check out my rationale there, but let me reiterate that no, it’s not a joke. I think that this Bucks team can win without one of their stars, and I even think they can beat this Celtics team. Bucks in 6 forever, that’s for the culture.
Riley: I’ve seen this team play some of the most lazy, dumb, feckless, dopey, imbecilic, drunken, grotesque, vapid, disreputable, downright simpleton-level basketball adult men are capable of playing to start every playoff series since time immemorial. I’ve also seen them remember that they are an elite professional athletic organization from the coaching staff on down more often than I can count, suddenly fighting like the Twelve Olympians made flesh. Mike Budenholzer and Co. will uncharacteristically switch it up and ask the team to play better starting in Game 2 rather than in Game 3 or Game 4. That’s the difference. Bucks in 5.
Morgan: My fault for arriving late and having Riley steal all of the adjectives. Since my Round One prediction of Bucks in 3 seems a little too dyspeptic (there’s one!), I’ll also defer to the culture: Bucks in 6.
Your turn! Copy/paste the questions below and put your answers to them in the comments.