The NBA playoffs finally commence on Saturday, after a hard-fought 82 game regular season. While many acknowledge the Western Conference was the stronger conference again this season, the Eastern Conference was also very competitive. In the East, it took until the last night of the regular season to determine playoff position for five teams. This article looks at the match-up between the No. 2 seed and the No. 7 seed. In other words, this is the Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks series preview.
Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks Series Preview
First, the obvious: Celtics 2, Bucks 0. What’s that score? That’s all-stars missing. The Celtics endured this season without prized free agent Gordon Hayward. Now, to compound that, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving has also been ruled out for the playoffs. Boston is also without Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis. Contrast that with the Bucks’ talented forward, Jabari Parker, who returned to the team late in the season. Milwaukee was banged up all year, as guards Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova missed extended time during the regular season. However, both are now healthy and expected to contribute mightily to the playoff effort.
Statistically, the Celtics finished the season with the top-ranked defense. They had a defensive rating of 103.9 (points allowed per 100 possessions). Consequently, Boston allowed the third fewest points per game, 100.4. Offensively, the Celtics had the 18th ranked (or 12th worst) offensive rating. They scored 107.6 points per 100 possessions.
The Bucks, on the other hand, were average statistically both offensively and defensively. An offensive rating of 109.8 was good enough for ninth. Their defensive rating of 110.1 placed Milwaukee as the 19th-ranked defense.
The Bucks had the third-ranked field goal percentage, as they shot 47.8 percent from the field. On the other hand, the Celtics attempted the 10th most three-point shots and shot the league’s second-best percentage from distance (37.7 percent). This is important because the Bucks are the fifth-worst at defending the three-point shot.
Another key stat is rebounding. The Bucks ranked 30th and last in total rebounding. Comparatively, the Celtics ranked eighth in total rebounds and sixth in defensive rebounds.
The Greek Freak
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player on either team in this series. Antetokounmpo is a superstar and an MVP candidate. The Greek Freak (as Antetokoumpo is widely known) averaged 26.9 points (fifth in the league), 10 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. He boasts an impressive PER (player efficiency rating) of 27.3; the league average PER is 15. Antetokounmpo plays with the ball in his hands a lot, as evidenced by a usage rate of 31.2 percent. Never afraid of the big moment, Antetokounmpo was stellar in last season’s playoffs. Antetokounmpo does it all for the Bucks, making him a Swiss Army knife of sorts.
Horford the Honorable
Forward/center Al Horford is the Celtics’ best (healthy) player and leader. A five-time All-Star, Horford averaged 14.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Most notably, Horford shot 42.9 percent from beyond the three-point arc. A complete player, Horford does the little things well, such as screen setting and shot-making. Defensively, Horford is masterful in his positioning, decision making, and overall presence.
Key Match-Ups to Watch
Brad Stevens vs. Joe Prunty
There is no competition here. Brad Stevens is a leader of men, a master tactician and inarguably one of the top head coaches in the NBA. Stevens’ ability to make in-game adjustments as well as game-to-game adjustments is well known. Joe Prunty, on the other hand, is an interim coach with no previous head coaching experience. It must be said, however, that Prunty has been an NBA assistant coach since 2002 with several stops.
Stevens has over 200 regular season victories and 11 playoff wins, while Prunty has just 37 total games as Milwaukee’s head coach. Advantage Stevens.
Point Guard Duel
With the loss of Irving, Terry Rozier is now the starting point guard for the Celtics. Now in his third season, Rozier has blossomed, posting career numbers in all categories. As Irving’s replacement, Rozier averaged 15.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per contest. Rozier also shot 38.1 percent from beyond the arc.
The Bucks counter with Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe, an early-season acquisition for Milwaukee, averaged 17.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game over 71 contests. He shot 34.9 percent from beyond the arc and 47.7 percent from the field overall.
Both Rozier and Bledsoe play solid defense, so they will create problems for each other. If one can significantly outplay the other, it could create a huge advantage for his team.
Brown stands 6’7″ and is considered as a top wing defender in the NBA. Last off-season, Stevens stated (on Adrian Wojnarowski‘s podcast) that he wanted Brown to improve his defense, which he did. On offense, Brown shot 39.5 percent from three-point range. That was in addition to his top-notch athleticism, quickness, and an ability to score in a myriad of ways.
At 6’8″ and weighing 205 lbs., Tatum is an offensive machine. Tatum entered the NBA with a polished midrange game, alongside an ability to make difficult shots. Furthermore, Tatum shot 43.4 percent from three with an effective field goal percentage of 53.8 percent.
Middleton’s career three-point accuracy is 39.1 percent. He also averaged a career-high 20 points and 5.2 rebounds per game this season. Middleton has been the Bucks’ second-best player this season and is vital to the ambitions of his team.
Snell shot 40.3 percent from three-point range. However, he is not much more than a token piece of the Bucks’ offense, as evidenced by his mere 10.6 percent usage rate. Snell contributes manfully on the defensive end, though. He’s 6’7″ with a reputation for defensive versatility and strength.
A Potential Wildcard
The Bucks have another card to play: Jabari Parker. Parker played 31 minutes per game this season, averaging 12.6 points and 4.9 rebounds. Unfortunately, Parker’s advanced metrics show him to be below average in several facets, especially on the defensive end.
Another Small Note
Celtics center and much maligned former Buck Greg Monroe faces his old team.
In most playoff series, the team with the undoubted best player wins. However, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is far and away the best player here, his team is, at best, inconsistent. The Bucks have shown an inherent lack of discipline in their offensive philosophy and they were the worst in the NBA defensively. Brad Stevens and the Celtics, however, are disciplined in all areas. Where they may lack in raw talent, the Celtics counter with precision, poise, and, ultimately, purpose.
The teams split the regular season series 2-2. This is an indication of a long playoff series to come. The Celtics should be narrowly favored in a potential seven-game series. Game 1 tips off Sunday at 1 p.m.
CHICAGO, USA – OCTOBER 6: Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) of Milwaukee Bucks during the preseason NBA game between Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks, in Chicago, United States, on October 6, 2017.
(Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)