Here we go. The Milwaukee Bucks swept their first round opponent in four straight games. But the incredibly average Detroit Pistons are nothing like the second round opponent. The Boston Celtics are an entirely different task, as they also swept their first round opponent, the Indiana Pacers. For some, the Celtics are the choice to represent the Eastern Conference in the championship.
Last season, the series between the two in the first round went seven games. The home team won every game. That left the Bucks out of the second round for the seventeenth straight year. In the next two weeks, Milwaukee will have their chance for revenge. Don’t think that last year’s matchup is any indication of how this series will go, as both teams are entirely different.
In last season’s playoffs, Terry Rozier tore Eric Bledsoe apart and many Bostonians are saying that this will repeat. In addition, Boston didn’t have Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. In the eyes of a Celtics fan, their team has made the necessary jump to get them from the second round to the finals and the fact that the Bucks won the most games of anyone doesn’t seem to phase them.
Well, while the Bucks weren’t missing two of their best players, they are absolutely nothing like they were last year. They have a new coach, a new system, new players, and even much improved players like Bledsoe and Sterling Brown. So let’s just take a look at this season by the numbers.
Start with the obvious. The Bucks won 60 games, more than anyone in the league. The Celtics won 49, tied for ninth in the league. Hence, why this matchup will be a one seed versus a four seed rather than the seven versus two seed last year. Milwaukee will have the home court advantage, something they really could have used last year. Getting out to a 2-0 lead with the first two games in Milwaukee would give the Bucks a huge boost going into the pair in Boston.
In terms of offensive and defensive rating, the Bucks have the advantage easily. Milwaukee finished fourth and first while the Celtics finished ninth and sixth, respectively. With just these two statistics plus the record, common sense says Giannis and company will take this one home in five games maximum. History shows, however, that basketball is much more random than that. It’s about how the teams matchup.
Both will be without critical players for part or all of this series. The Celtics will be without leading defender Marcus Smart while the Bucks will be without starting shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon. While it’s still unclear as to when each player will be ready to return, both have shown progress that suggests a possible return later in this series.
In the regular season, the teams matched up in three games, two of them in Boston. The Bucks came out on top in two of the three. Of course, it was the regular season and teams change throughout the year both in chemistry and available players. Regardless, it’s a seven game series and the focus for each team will be exploiting the weaknesses of the opponent.
The Bucks clear weakness all season has been that hey allow a ton of open threes. Even as their defense was top of the NBA all season, they consistently ranked bottom five in opponent three pointers allowed. That’s the one part of their defensive scheme that is left open and they have been alright with that. In the regular season, Boston shot just 36% from deep. If that number is close to the same in this series, that’s a huge advantage for the Bucks.
The Celtics have a very good defense as well, with their size coming mainly from two guys in Al Horford and Aron Baynes. Those two will be the primary defenders on Brook Lopez and are rarely in together. That means whoever takes Giannis will be undersized. This resulted in Celtics coach Brad Stevens saying they plan to take a lot of charges on Giannis.
Thing is, that’s been the plan from every team the whole season. Sure, Giannis get’s reckless sometimes, especially in first quarters. But nearly every time, he’s settled down and found the open shooter while reducing the turnovers. His usage will be critical as it has been all season for the Bucks. If the outside shooters are hitting and the Bucks can stay healthy throughout the series, there’s no reason Milwaukee can’t take this one easily.
The first game of the seven game series will take place Sunday at noon at Fiserv Forum.