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Milwaukee Bucks vs. Boston Celtics Preview: Rivalry Renewed

Rising Bucks clash with Jrue Holiday & Celtics for East’s top spot

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Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Tonight’s game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics would have been highly anticipated no matter what happened this previous offseason. That the Bucks swapped Jrue Holiday for Damian Lillard, only to see Holiday ultimately land with a conference rival like the Celtics only amps the drama. If sport is about theater and storylines, games like this are its purest form.

Where We’re At

Prior to the start of last week, these two teams couldn’t have looked to be on more different trajectories. The Bucks, 5-4 with an eyesore of a defense to boot, were looking for signs of coherence while the Celtics, 7-2 and boasting top marks on both ends of the floor and the league’s best net rating, looked like surefire leviathans in the East.

Now, the Bucks are winners of five straight with their latest outing being another big scoring night over the Washington Wizards, 142-129. What has been most remarkable about this run is how flexible the offense has been to get the job done even with a continually subpar defense. Between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard there have been sparks of real chemistry, and both have been capable of carrying the scoring load together or individually (depending on the circumstances). Lillard in particular seems to have gotten things to snap together offensively: Over the past five games, the team has registered a 122.6 ORtg with him on the floor, and his 33.3% AST% belies how much he’s still looking to fit in with a wider team picture. Sure, the opponents aren’t elite, but Milwaukee is winning in spite of injuries, minute restrictions, and with a superstar duo still figuring out how to fit together.

For the Celtics, they have only lost one game since that 7-2 start, but it was at the hands of the truly dreadful Charlotte Hornets earlier this week, 118-121. From what I gather, it sounds like their late-game offense fell into the bad, “my turn, your turn” habits of yore — and it wasn’t just limited to the Hornets loss, with the same disjointed late-game approach cropping up in close victories over the Toronto Raptors and also-dreadful Memphis Grizzlies. Old friend Jrue Holiday has started all 14 games he’s played in, and he’s largely a tertiary figure behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — averages of 12.8 points (.435/.349/.773), 7.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists in 34.6 minutes a night don’t jump off the page, but he was never meant to be a huge part of Boston’s offense. Instead, the defense for which he has made his name remains his calling card. A 105.1 DRtg with Holiday on the floor would be the best in the league by a whole point and a half and is better than his numbers in Milwaukee. It is a small sample-size, sure, but there’s a reason you could fret when he ultimately landed with an already strong defensive team like the Celtics.

Injury Report

For Milwaukee, Jae Crowder is the only non-two-way player listed as out, with MarJon Beauchamp (right ankle), Damian Lillard (left oblique strain), and Chris Livingston (left ankle) all listed as probable.

The Celtics have nothing to report and will be at full strength for this tilt.

UPDATE: Tatum is listed as questionable with an illness.

Player to Watch

Jrue Holiday v. whoever he is detailed with guarding. Don’t be surprised if he takes a turn or two guarding each member of Milwaukee’s big three as the night goes on. What makes this matchup so fascinating is how deep the chess match can possibly go. If Giannis can successfully shove Kristaps Porzingis into a trash can, how quickly does Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla bring Al Horford off the bench? Can Brook Lopez meaningfully impact the game offensively? Lillard will have to deal with Derrick White and Jrue — is he equal to the task? It should be a ton of fun to watch.

How to Watch

Bally Sports WI and ESPN at 6:30 PM CST


Game 15: Against the Boston Celtics, the Bucks will...

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