Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Boston Celtics (4)
What more needs to be said? This series has all the hype, and rightfully so. Let’s roll the balls out and get to it.
Series TV Schedule
Game 1 – Celtics at Bucks, Sunday, April 28, 1 p.m ET, ABC
Game 2 – Celtics at Bucks, Tuesday, April 30, TBD, TNT
Game 3 – Bucks at Celtics, Friday, May 3, TBD, ESPN
Game 4 – Bucks at Celtics, Monday, May 6, TBD, TNT
Games 5-7 TBD if necessary
Milwaukee Bucks Starting Lineup
Boston Celtics Starting Lineup
Key Player Matchups
PG: Kyrie Irving vs. Eric Bledsoe
Edge Boston. Kyrie needs to be dominant in this series. He has to win this scoring battle every night. He has to get down and defend. He has to make his teammates better, not sulk, play thru the highs and the lows, and lead. This will be probably the greatest referendum on his leadership and ability to be ‘the guy’ to date. The ball is in Uncle Drew’s court.
SG: Jaylen Brown vs Sterling Brown/Malcolm Brogdon
Edge Boston until Brogdon returns. Brogdon missing at least the 1st couple games after missing all of round one against the Pistons is HUGE. He’s a sneaky choice for Most Improved Player – he likely won’t win because he’s remained really good as he’s been his whole career, but his # uptick from last year is substantial.
He’s one of Milwaukee’s best in their dribble-drive attack, crushing bigs on switches, ‘Nash’ dribbling along the baseline to find cutters, etc. He’s super-efficient, and if he’s healthy the Bucks need him to be his regular self. In his absence, Sterling Brown has done a solid job but he is a far more limited player than Brogdon. Jaylen Brown has really come on strong as the season has gone on. He’ll make his mark in the series as a versatile defender who can switch and guard a lot of guys, make shots, play in transition, etc. When Jaylen and Brogdon go against each other, that matchup should be nearly a coin toss and be hugely important to the series.
SF: Jayson Tatum vs Kris Middleton
Edge TOSS-UP. This one is the closest call in the series. Middleton and Tatum have very different builds and different moves, but they both end up operating in similar manners. Both are very strong 3PT shooters who also have the ability to get their own shot in the midrange, which will undoubtedly be important with both teams emphasis on taking away 3’s as well as in the closing minutes of games. Tatum is trying to shake off a sophomore season that disappointed some and prove he’s an All-Star caliber player, while Middleton is trying to validate making his 1st All-Star team and prove deserving of the massive contract he’ll get this offseason. I predict a game-winner on both sides, and the series coming down to who outplays the other in game 7.
PF: Al Horford vs. Giannis
Edge Milwaukee. Giannis is an MVP frontrunner. He’s the player I’d choose if I could pick anyone in the league to build a team around. But it might surprise you to hear that I thought long and hard about choosing Horford in this matchup. *Waits for jaws to un-drop.* Yes, Giannis is undoubtedly great and the most dangerous player in this series. But Horford matches up with him quite well defensively. The best trick against Giannis is to put a big-bodied 5 on him who can resist his backdowns and attempts to plow through smaller defenders to the rim. Horford provides great size, the ability to stay low laterally, and the vet savvy to anticipate Giannis’ moves and defend without fouling. I think he’ll make things really tough for Giannis for a lot of this series, and force Giannis to take a lot more jumpers than he normally does, which should be a win for the Celtics. In addition, Horford is the consummate ‘swiss army knife.’ He sets great screens, he moves the ball, he pops, he rolls, he shoots, he posts, he defends, he hustles. He’s one of if not the most team-oriented guys in the NBA, and does so many things that just contribute to winning. I expect him to have a terrific series. Still, it’s Giannis.
C: Marcus Morris vs. Brook Lopez
Edge Milwaukee. Yes, I know that Al Horford is really Boston’s center. But since BOS will have Horford guard Giannis, I’m going to match-up how the teams do. Lopez provides the edge here as a big-time floor spacer, but Morris can easily make this matchup much closer than people think. While the main goal is to have Horford on Giannis, Morris also neutralizes an advantage Lopez has. When the Bucks run PNR w/ Lopez, they frequently count on a slow-footed 7-footer defending the screen, which frequently allows the ballhandler to either blow by or opens up Lopez on his pop when the big has to stay with the ball too long. Morris will counter this to an extent: he can stay in front of the ball relatively well on the PNR, switch if necessary onto smaller guards, and recover quicker to Lopez to contest shots. Still, with Lopez’s huge size advantage, he should be able to shoot over the top a decent amount. Expect to see Bud also try to run a lot of ATO’s to try to post Brook to take advantage of the size mismatch. The Bucks will likely defend Horford with Lopez.
Bench: Rozier, Hayward, Baynes, Theis vs. Hill, Brown, Connaughton, Snell, Mirotic, Ilyasova, Wilson
Edge: Boston. As you can see, with Boston only having one clear advantage in the starting lineups, there has to be something that will make the series close…and look no further than the bench. Hayward has really started to look like his pre-injury self as of late, and has the ability to score 20 a game and just play the right way. Rozier fought through a disappointing season to have a very strong 1st round, and is looking to remind everyone how he dominated Eric “Drew” Bledsoe in last year’s playoffs. He will be a guy the Celtics need some scoring punch off the bench, but they also need him to stay disciplined and stay within himself and not get suckered into trying to make it a 1-on-1 showdown. Milwaukee has a much more questionable bench, and Bud will shuffle through guys until he finds something that works. Mirotic is likely the highest-upside guy on their bench, and will be a slip/pop guy that Boston will have to be locked into their coverages on and not let him get his confidence from deep.
Coach: Stevens vs. Budenholzer
Edge: Toss-Up. This one won’t be popular in BucksNation either, but I think the coaching in this series will be the ultimate chess match. Stevens undoubtedly had a disappointing regular season and Bud is a frontrunner for Coach of the Year, but I think Stevens overall is a more adaptable tactician to the playoffs. Bud has his system – it worked great in ATL, it’s worked great in MIL. But the Bucks also play mostly free-flowing; they have a 5-Out structure and principles and attack you relentlessly, but Bud doesn’t call a ton of plays. Stevens will run sets more frequently, and go outside the box more in adjustments and schemes where Budenholzer is more likely to stick with his philosophy regardless of result. It’s an interesting contrast in styles, and I think both coaches will show their chops in a fascinating chess match.
Tony Snell – Snell is an odd choice for this, but whether or not he gives the Bucks anything off the bench will likely determine if this series is as competitive as I think it will be. He’s another 3-and-D guy who plays his role and has looked better with Bud without being asked to do too much. An ankle injury hampered him in round one, but he’ll need to step in off the bench against BOS and make open shots, defend, and be locked in. Snell has the tendency sometimes to sort of ‘float’ through games and look like he’s not completely engaged, although that may just be his personality. He’ll have to go out with a chip on his shoulder and make things really tough on Hayward, Rozier, and whoever else he’s asked to defend.
Jaylen Brown – In Brown’s 3rd season, he had to sacrifice a tremendous amount this season. When most former 3rd picks would expect to go from 30 to 35 minutes in their 3rd year and make a leap into ‘elite’ status, Brown had to go the OPPOSITE way, seeing his minutes drop from 30 to 25, the result of a team with quite frankly too many guys around the same positions. As a result, Brown’s season overall was up-and-down. He scored 8 points in the 1st two games of the Pistons series, and 36 in the last two. He’s trying to prove his consistency and that he belongs as one of the best 3-and-D guys in the league. Brad Stevens needs the absolute best version of Jaylen Brown to win this series.
Gordon Hayward gets an honorable mention here. The Celtics are 7-0 this season when Hayward scores 20 in a game. If he can do that a couple of times in this series, Boston will be in good shape.
Celtics in 7
Odds & Line Movement Links: Vegas Odds (All NBA Games Today)