NBA Playoff Preview: Celtics v Bucks

Following the Boston Celtics sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics now key in on taking out another dominant eastern conference foe: The Milwaukee Bucks

One year ago today the Boston Celtics were at home, fresh off a gentleman’s sweep at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, settling in to enjoy a lengthy offseason. The Nets on the other hand, were preparing to face off against power forward Giannis Antetekounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks squad in the eastern conference semifinals. Fast forward a year and the roles have been completely reversed. This year, it was the Celtics who prevailed in the first round versus the preseason title favorite Brooklyn Nets, ending their season in sweeping fashion. With the Bucks ending the Chicago Bulls’ season in five games, these two eastern conference juggernauts are set to match up in what should be an incredibly entertaining second round matchup.

Why the Bucks can win

There are a plethora of reasons for analysts and fans alike to pick the Bucks to win this series. Many will point to the teams’ depth. Some will highlight the championship pedigree that both the players and coaching staff boast following their NBA Finals triumph versus the Phoenix Suns last year. With that being said, the main reason the Bucks have a chance to upset the Celtics in this second round is because they have Antetekounmpo. 

Antetokounmpo is quietly putting together one of the greatest resumes of all time and he is still only 27 years old. The reigning Finals MVP is having another spectacular season, averaging close to 30 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists, and yet he recieved minimal MVP buzz throughout the regular season. The simple reasoning for such an atrocity could be pointed to Philadelphia and Denver centers Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic having great seasons themselves, respectively. The real reason, at least in my eyes, is because voters are simply becoming accustomed to Antetekounmpo’s supremacy on both ends of the court. The Bucks are +10.8 points better per 100 possessions with Giannis on the court versus when he sits. His dominance in the paint cannot be overstated, and he is the biggest reason that the Bucks will retain relevancy as long as he resides in Milwaukee.

If the Bucks and Celtics were both healthy going into this matchup, many would likely label this as the best second round matchup in these playoffs. Unfortunately, that is not the case following Adrian Wojnarowski’s report that Bucks forward Khris Middleton is expected to miss the entire series. This is a huge blow to a team with legitimate championship aspirations, and could prove to be the difference between these evenly-matched teams. Middleton is the Bucks’ second leading scorer and, more importantly, tends to be the team’s closer due to Antetekounmpo’s inability to knock down perimeter jump shots with any sort of consistency. Middleton has had his fair share of big playoff moments, with many Celtics fans recalling his miracle of a shot in the opening game of the Celtics’ 2018 playoff run. His clutch play for last year’s championship squad was arguably just as paramount as Giannis’ huge statistical performances. 

Even without Middleton, the Bucks are not a team to be scoffed at. Guard Jrue Holiday is the most underrated player in the entire NBA due to his undervalued offensive arsenal and ferocious defense. The emergence of pesky guard Grayson Allen in the previous series versus the Bulls should give Bucks fans hopes that Middleton’s scoring production can be supplemented. Fan favorite forward Bobby Portis has been just as influential to this years’ team as the year prior. Giannis will be Giannis. This team has enough talent firepower offensively and defensively to survive this round without Antetekounmpo’s Robin. Only time will tell if Giannis can be Batman and will his team to consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances.

Why the Celtics can win

Insert Grantman, the Celtics’ secret weapon to stopping an unstoppable force. Well, and the rest of the Celtics seemingly-impenetrable defense.

Coming into the series against the Nets, many analysts predicted that the Nets would prevail because they have two unguardable players. Coach Ime Udoka and the rest of his squad made forward Kevin Durant and guard Kyrie Irving look frustrated and discombobulated. The Celtics ability to throw quality perimeter defenders at opposing guards and forwards is second to none. In this series, it will come down to their ability to throw quality big defenders at, arguably, the best player in the world.

Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens deserves heaps of praise for his acquisitions of forwards Al Horford and Daniel Theis, two versatile big men that can pose resistance to Antetokounmpo. Center Robert Williams III, a potential first-team all-defense member, will also be tasked with contesting shots from the weak side as he has done tremendously the whole season. Stopping Antetokounmpo is not a particularly realistic goal for the Celtics, as a player with his size and skillset will get his numbers. Limiting his impact on the game is not only achievable, but plausible with a tremendous coach combined with an arsenal of able defenders.

Many of those able defenders have also made big contributions on the offensive side of the ball as well. Boston’s role players are going to need to continue to shine, especially considering the Bucks’ game plan will likely be to shut down the Celtics’ dynamic wing duo. Guard Payton Pritchard has been a timely scorer off of the bench and continues to hit big shots when called upon. Forward Grant Williams, known as Batman to the Boston faithful, showed his massive three point strides in the series against Brooklyn. Lastly, Horford has been outstanding both from the outside and grabbing offensive boards and creating second chance opportunities. 

Speaking of opportunities, stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have certainly been taking advantage of those. Coming into a series against a duo deemed to be the most skilled of all time, many thought that if Brown and Tatum could keep up with the aforementioned duo’s scoring input then the Celtics could prevail. Instead, the young duo outplayed Brooklyn’s established superstars on both ends of the court, leading to a convincing sweep. The stellar two way wings have Boston fans salivating over the present and future of the team. If they are going to eliminate the reigning champs, Tatum and Brown must continue to carry the load on offense and play stellar help defense on one of the most dominant forces the game has ever seen in Antetokounmpo. 

Sweeping the Nets served as a reminder of just how dominant this team has been over the past few months. With that being said, the Bucks are a completely different animal. Although the Nets are a very talented team, they have never had extended stretches of success like the Bucks have this season. For Tatum, this is yet another chance to prove himself. If he can be the best player on the court for the majority of the series, not only will the Celtics win the series, Tatum will no doubt be regarded as one of the best players in the league. The quest for yet another Eastern Conference Finals berth begins on Sunday. Let’s go buck hunting.

Facebook Comments