The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks suit up on Sunday afternoon to kick off their second straight playoff match-up. Last year, the Celtics survived a first round, seven game series. Home court was king, as neither team won a road game.
A year later, Giannis’ stature has increased. An MVP candidate who has benefited from a capable coach in Mike Budenholzer and a stronger supporting cast with a tad more continuity.
So what will the stories be if the Bucks win? What will the stories be if the Celtics can send the Bucks to the golf course for the second straight year?
Well here’s what I think:
Three reasons the Bucks beat the Celtics
1) Khris Middleton continues to skewer the Celtics.
He’s been doing it on the regular. His playoff performance last year was insane, and it’s a big reason the series went 7 games. Eric Bledsoe was a dumpster fire, sucked into a beef with Terry Rozier. Middleton scored more than 23 points in every single game, except for game 6, when he scored 16 in a winning effort. He also hit 25 three-pointers in those seven games.
2) Budenholzer out coaches Brad Stevens.
This series has some intriguing match-ups. The Bucks have a walking mismatch in Giannis, who deserves so much attention, that it’s quite possible it forces Stevens to try or do things he might not want to do, exposing the Celtics to some knock-out blows. Stevens could have more decisions to make, especially around Giannis’ supporting cast and how the Celtics want to handle them. Budenholzer has much more playoff experience than Sam Prunty, the Bucks coach last year. Bud has been to an Eastern Conference Finals with the Hawks. He’s really only lost to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (it’s incredible the scar-tissue LeBron has left behind in the East).
3) Giannis proves to be the unstoppable force that Celtics fans feared
This is the most terrifying, and realistic, outcome. Giannis just dominates on both ends of the court. Scoring, rebounding, facilitating, rim protecting, and serving beers. Giannis has experienced a natural progression through the NBA. He made the playoffs last year, now he’s won a round in the playoffs. The on-ramp to greatness is steep, but he could find himself at the top this summer. The Celtics have a few small answers for Giannis, mainly in the form of line-ups that can switch and keep him and his teammates guessing. Ultimately, Giannis could average 35, 15, 10 this series and vanquish the pre-season Eastern Conference favorites with a swat of the hand.
Three reasons the Celtics beat the Bucks
1) The Celtics chuck, and make, a ton of threes.
Kyrie said it himself after the first Bucks-Celtics game this season when the Cs took 55 threes: “”Get ‘em up. I hope we shoot 80 next time if they play defense like that.” The next two meetings, the Celtics took 34 and 40 three-pointers. So in three games, they took 129 threes. That’s 43 per game. In a seven game series, that would be 301 threes. Now, will they shoot that many? Probably not. But could they average 35 per game? I wouldn’t bet against it. I also wouldn’t bet against them taking 60+ in a game.
In those three games, the Celtics made 48 of those 129 shots (24 of those came in the first game when they took 55). That’s 37%, just about right on their season average of 36.6%. The Celtics were the best 3FG% shooting team in the first round of the playoffs, making 39% of their shots from deep. I think a big reason the Cs 3FG% went up in those four playoff games (small sample size, I know) is because the ball was moving better. The Cs are not great at shooting threes off the dribble. So they will have to continue moving off the ball to get open looks with the help of teammates.
Hero ball three pointers are not the recipe here. Catch and shoot threes are what they need.
2) Celtics take care of the ball
The Celtics were rather sloppy with the ball in the first round. They averaged 16 TO per game against Indy (compared to 12.8 in regular season), the second most in the playoffs behind the Philadelphia 76ers.
Is this a playoff bump because teams are playing harder and getting into lanes a bit more? Is it because the Celtics were taking more chances? I think it was probably a little bit of both. In this series against the Bucks, they cannot give away free points, which can swing the momentum, especially on the road.
3) Celtics embrace a “team first” mentality
This has been the struggle all season, right? The Celtics players don’t know, or don’t like, their roles. Not enough minutes. Not enough shots. Not enough credit. Too much blame.
Well, now the Cs are in a series where they do not have the best player. They probably won’t play another series this post season where they have the best player (Giannis, Kawhi, KD, Curry, Harden…). So Kyrie and Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum and everyone else will have to swallow their pride, take their opportunities, and celebrate the opportunities of others.
The Celtics are where they are most comfortable. They are the underdogs, punching up a weight-class. It’s not where anyone expected them to be. However, it’s exactly what fed the fire last year. They get to play with a chip on their shoulder. If they do, they win. If they don’t. They lose.
I think it’s as simple as that.
Celtics in 7.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Sean Melia