No.4 Boston Celtics vs. No.1 Milwaukee Bucks
It didn’t really feel like it, but the Celtics swept the Pacers last round. It definitely wasn’t with ease.
The biggest margin the Celtics won by was 10 points in Game 1, and that felt even closer as it was Kyrie Irving who had bail them out like usual at the end.
That was practically how every game ended up. Indy never went away, and it wasn’t because Boston wasn’t trying, it’s because they simply weren’t playing well.
Boston’s not going to be able to do that this series.
As I wrote yesterday, the Bucks essentially got a free pass in the first round with Detroit. The difference in their performance is that they never didn’t try, and that was against someone that they didn’t have to try against.
The biggest problem for Boston in this series is the fact that they aren’t going to get away with their slow starts. Milwaukee keeps the same energy throughout the entire game. If the Celtics start slow and get in a hole, they probably aren’t getting out of it.
Indiana did nothing defensively that was suffocating either. It was just bad play and slow starts.
The Bucks have the best defense in league.
Against a tall, long team, Kyrie is a massive mismatch. He’s too quick and squirmy for most wings. But Milwaukee is perfectly built. They have a huge stocking of lengthy wings and have smaller guards who can hang with him. Bledsoe and George Hill are defensive minded guys who can make Kyrie have to work. If you do that, you kill a large percentage of Celtics hope in this series, because Kyrie is the guy when things don’t go well, and for too much of the time this season, that has been the case.
The Bucks can suffocate the Celtics offense. With all their wings, they can switch everything and force Boston to make shots. If Kyrie is out of the picture, leaning on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to produce is a risky bet; it’s a boom or bust scenario.
Gordon Hayward is rounding into shape, and he brings an extra dimension with his facilitating ability, but whether he is off or on the ball, the Bucks can close those passing and cutting lanes easily. This is a series where I’d expect to see a lot of Giannis at the five lineups, because the Celtics don’t have a guy who the Bucks need Giannis to take care of. No one is that potent, and there’s other, better matchups for Kyrie.
This series matches up so well for Milwaukee that they don’t have anyone their best player has to guard on the defensive end while the other team no one to guard him on the offensive end.
The Celtics could sag off Giannis and dare him to shoot, but building a wall in front of the rim just gives him more room to explode. Plus, Giannis can score on a layup from the free throw line.
Jaylen Brown doing his best and Al Horford sitting back is the best scenario, but the Bucks play lineups where it’s five out for most of the time, which leaves the minutes Horford is out there for not very valuable. The only reason he isn’t unplayable is because there’s no other option.
While being a tough play defensively, Horford could get some easy buckets down low on the other end against the smaller Milwaukee lineups. Those baskets are going to be incredibly important.
This series is going to be a problem for Boston. They have no one for the best player on the floor. They’ll start slow against one of the most explosive offenses in the league, and won’t be able to creep back against the best defense. They’re going to need special production from Kyrie and from everyone else. Production that we haven’t seen from Tatum or Brown on a consistent level. They’re going to need Hayward to have a “Hey! Hayward!” game every night. They’re going to need Eric Bledsoe to turn back into the Eric Bledsoe we saw last postseason. They’re going to need… everything. This team has underwhelmed all season, and this is going to be the series we realize any of the hope we built up for them was all false.
Prediction: Bucks in 5