Now that every first round playoff series in the books, today begins the Conference Semifinals, led off by what many consider to be the premier series of the second round: the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. Let’s drink just to getting here, because it’s a Sunday brunch-time tip in the Central time zone (to those of you who remember the American sitcom Cheers, set in Boston: Sam “Mayday” Malone was the bartender at the eponymous bar, a former Red Sox relief pitcher played by Ted Danson). Anyway, both teams made quick work of their first round opponents and should be well-rested: Boston enjoyed five full days off since sweeping Brooklyn last Monday and the Bucks had three days since dispatching the Bulls.
Where We’re At
We meet again, Game 1. Since Mike Budenholzer took over the Bucks, they are just 3-6 in the first tilt of their playoff series, so many expect them to come out misfiring. Many were nonplussed by their efforts to start the Chicago series and were flat-out worried about their Game 2 loss to the point that some thought (plus some national media took the opportunity to suggest) they were no longer a title threat. It’s also often noted how much Milwaukee struggles after longer layoffs, but in this case we’re only talking three days and change. Bucks fans also are wary of day games after some notable duds in years past, but that’s a narrative that should end: Milwaukee is 22-9 (including a perfect 7-0) in games starting before 4pm ET under Bud. So, what will it be today? One hopes Giannis can solve Boston’s interior and throw pinpoint passes to shooters, who need to hit at rates higher than we’re accustomed to in the postseason. He and Jrue Holiday are the only reliable shot-creators Milwaukee has with Khris Middleton sidelined, so their playmaking load is even higher than usual. If Bud sticks with Bobby Portis in the starting lineup and eschews Chicago mayor Grayson Allen, the Bucks will enjoy a serious size advantage in the front court, which is perhaps the best hand they can play this series. However, can they bully the smaller Celtics bigs while not getting beat by their long wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown? Holiday and Wesley Matthews are absolutely critical in this round, likely to matchup with Boston’s two stars. Of course, Middleton remains out for Milwaukee and he is still joined by George Hill with his abdominal strain. The vetern point guard wasn’t able to practice Friday but Bud is hopeful that he’ll be back during the series.
Milwaukee’s first two games were uninspiring before three consecutive blowouts, but it’s worth noting that Boston only outscored Brooklyn by 18 points over their four games, plus were outshot from the floor and from deep, making it once of the “closest” sweeps in NBA history. Though the Celtics were not very dominant over the Nets, their victory was nonetheless impressive. Rookie head coach Ime Udoka threw every one of his many plus defenders at Kevin Durant, who looked extremely mortal and—dare I say—not in fact the best player on earth (but I didn’t think he was anyway). Most expect the C’s to attempt something similar against Giannis, though he imposes his will on a game much differently than the Brooklyn star. Aside from their top (in the regular season, at least) defense, Boston took advantage of their opponent’s matador unit with some notable lines from their stars: 29.5 PPG from Tatum, 22.5 from Brown, and 16.5 PPG from Smart. Grant Williams shot 50% behind the arc off the Celtic bench while also chipping in effectively on KD. In his career, Tatum has a few up-and-down series since becomg Boston’s lead player, with duds interspersing otherwise sterling performances. Much like Giannis entering last postseason, he’s still seeking a signature series victory. Oh and speaking of Brown, his hamstring gave him some trouble towards the end of last round and just a few days ago his status was in question, but he’s no longer on the injury report. In fact, no Celtics are on said report. Must be nice.
Due likely in large part to Middleton’s injury, which may keep him out for the entirety of this round, Milwaukee is in a familiar spot as the underdog. Vegas also knows how a typical Bucks Game 1 goes, so the Celtics are 4.5 point favorites to win.
Player To Watch
Regardless of who starts alongside him, Brook Lopez ensures Milwaukee will have the tallest player on the court as no one in Boston’s rotation is above 6’9”. Lopez is still a natural scorer down low and beyond his outside shooting or dunker-spot exploits, his old-man post game is reliable when the half-court offense gets sluggish. If he gets his usual array of dribble-up hook shots and floaters going against the smaller Celtics frontcourt, it will go a long way toward replacing the creation the Bucks lack without Middleton.
Game 1: Against Boston, the Bucks will…
This poll is closed
Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.