This series is all about trust – how much do you think the Boston Celtics have finally come together and how much weight you put on the championship-winning 86-year track record of Milwaukee Bucks?
In the macro sense, that's a Bucks Cakewalk. Milwaukee won eleven more games with a point difference double Boston. The Bucks hold home court. They have the best player and they can play it for as many minutes as they need.
But the postseason series does not take place at the macro level. There are seven games between two teams, not 82 games against 29 rivals. Boston brings with it benefits that could make it a much more competitive series than the big numbers suggest. The Celtics can win.
Malcolm Brogdon will miss at least the first two games. Who knows what he might look like when he returns. He is very important . (Also injured Marcus Smart, Boston's offensive defender against Khris Middleton, who became Michael Jordan in last season's playoffs.)
With Sterling Brown starting instead of Brogdon, it will be easier for Boston to hide Kyrie Irving in a series In which Milwaukee Kyrie could hunt, he treated Irving to the way Irving's Cavaliers treated Stephen Curry in a famous way. Without Brogdon, Milwaukee has a smaller quality wing for putting up small balls with Giannis Antetokounmpo (or one of Ersan Ilyasova / Nikola Mirotic / DJ Wilson, depending on your positional taste) in the middle ̵
They need her for Al Horford. He always defended Antetokounmpo well. Nobody can stop Antetokounmpo – not this souped-up version with more confidence and an emerging jump shot. But Horford lets him work. He is one of the few defenders capable of playing antetokounmpo, girding himself for the upcoming attack, and staying ahead of the likely MVP without giving a dunk parade.
Scoff, if you want. Antetokounmpo scored an average of 25.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, with 57 percent against Boston in the first round of last season. Horford obviously did not stop him.
But Boston has outperformed Milwaukee's history with Horford and Antetokounmpo on the ground, and that has expanded this season. (The sample size is obviously tiny.) Something about this matchup bothers the Bucks.
Boston is probably not worried about anyone outside of Antetokounmpo. Even without a Smart, they have enough wings to throw Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and the rest – and change a lot. This series could lead to Horford and Antetokounmpo – at both ends.
When Boston Horford and Aron Baynes start, Horford and Antetokounmpo are positionally aligned as nominal power forwards. Most coaches would stay with the Baynes-Horford duo. Boston outpaced its opponents by nearly 20 points per 100 possessions, with the pair lying on the ground in 163 regular season minutes per NBA.com. They stabilized the burglary defense of Boston. The Celtics were sweeping Indiana. Why change?
Baynes is also smart to shut off the color in the transition – a must against Antetokounmpo. He offers another great defender behind Horford.
But the Celtics could not score with Indiana against Baynes and Horford. Boston scored a minus five points in 43 of these minutes – 90 points per 100 possessions – which looks like a typo.
Baynes also gives Brook Lopez a place in defense. This end of the floor determines the chances of Boston. Boston's defense is very good, but it can only put Milwaukee's offense – third best overall – down so much. Milwaukee should (at least) achieve something like an average quota. Boston's offense is the shakiest of the four units; Can it reach the league's average against the NBA's stinging defense? The Bucks prefer to let Lopez hang on the edge. This setup allows open midrange speakers. The guys who defend Irving – mostly Bledsoe and George Hill – have to stay on Irving's hip:
But if the screen for Irving flush – and if the Celtics put it higher on the ground, well above the 3-point bow – Irving will go into some open 3-pointers.
Boston can produce these recordings with Baynes screening on Irving. Baynes sets cement wall pillars. But Lopez is not worried about Baynes bang for 3s. he can contain Irving. Baynes will meet a few wide open 3s. Boston can position Horford in the corner as a spacer, let Baynes roll to the brim and pray that he can play against a jumbled defense.
But more Baynes is a win for Milwaukee. Boston only claims this series by wielding the Irving Horford pick-and-roll to a degree it never has – and targeting Lopez.
Horford will hit this open 3 enough to be a problem:
(An early attack on Lopez in the semi-transition will help.) Similarly, screen-the-screener actions in which a third Celtic smashes Lopez, as he bumps out of the paint.
Lightning a third defender in Horford, and he'll whip the ball to that man's man – drop a pass-chain that usually ends in a good shot.
One way to make Lopez-on- Guaranteeing Horford (possibly) is to start Gordon Hayward instead of Baynes, which would restore the five starters that Boston wanted to use in each of the last two seasons – a lineup that renewed itself against the Pacers.
(Boston could theoretically start Semi Ojeleye, her "break at Giannis" – bank guy, that would allow them to play Horford in the middle while doing part of the antetokounmpo task on j others to relocate – Ojeleye. The defense of Antetokounmpo is a brutal job. Horford will do it maybe 30 minutes per game. Ojeleye will be playing in this series but it feels like he's starting to think. Play your best guys.)
Boston will play Horford in the middle, no matter who starts. The Celtics can play as and hold Horford on Antetokounmpo. To do that, Hayward, Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown would have to defend Brook Lopez, but that's not a problem as Lopez is mostly around the bow.
Boston has already taken this route against the Bucks. Lopez could set up the boys, but Milwaukee has seldom turned away from his core offense to do that. Boston would welcome any Lopez bullyball – and adjust accordingly – if Lopez was more for Horford.
Boston ran about 30 Irving Horford pitchers per 100 possessions in the first round – about seven more than the average of the regular season per second. The Celtics should probably push this towards 40 and instruct both guys to crack many 3s.
Lopez is nimbler than you think, after seeing Milwaukee planting him in color all season. He has occasionally shown the ability to step on Irving and recover to defeat Horford's shot:
But Horford will digest that, unleash some nasty pump counterfeiters, and look for Lopez for profitable stuff. The creep also causes Lopez to make Irving turn the corner into the same 5-on-3 turn.
Boston, the Irving Horford attack varies, is important. Milwaukee is probably okay with Horford, who shoots 10 half-open 3s per game from above the break. The Bucks have got better shooters under control. Few big men want to shoot again and again – especially if they miss two or three misses. Debt sets in. They hesitate. Hesitation kills. The Bucks also know that opponents will never generate layups or free throws in this way.
This makes this matchup so interesting: Milwaukee is keen to take shots on the edge and free throws, but Boston is terrible to produce both. The Celtics ranked 27th in the free-throw rate and 27th in the number of shots on the basket. Most teams lose to Milwaukee. Boston is already playing as Milwaukee wants his opponents to play.
That should help the Celtics. They are designed to take the kind of shots Milwaukee gives. In three fixtures in the regular season, the trends were even more extreme. Boston's attempts near the basket crashed, and the Celtics distributed almost all of them to non-angular 3s in "Cleaning The Glass."
Almost every team has to shoot well to beat another good team four times in seven tries. Moron. This is especially true for Boston here. If the Celtics can manipulate spins and schemes to create the correct jump shots, and many of them do, they can trigger the confusion.
ESPN's Zach Lowe talks to various basketball players about various basketball things. Listen now!
You should also get a lot of shots. Milwaukee was ranked 25th on the forced turn and Boston takes care of the ball. In three regular season games, Boston brought the ball down to just 8.2% of its possessions – far below the league's best-ever turnover. A total failure on the rim and the leash do not hurt so much if you shoot at every ride.
Of course, Milwaukee does not just have to accept Lopez-on-Horford's match. The Bucks were able to hide Lopez on Brown or Hayward and make Antetokounmpo chase Horford out of open 3s. (If things get tight, Antetokounmpo will probably be able to defend Horford more than ever.) Boston could face these boys in the screening efforts – putting Lopez back in the spotlight.
Milwaukee could cut Lopez's # 39 minutes and play Antetokounmpo more in the middle. These lineups can change a lot and vaporize Boston's open jumpers. Horford can post most Milwaukee's perimeter guys on these switches. But can anyone else? Fears Milwaukee Tatum – Boston's best one-on-one wing – against everyone in a Bledsoe / Middleton / Sterling Brown / Antetokounmpo / Mirotic lineup? (Side note: Mirotic could be very tall in this series.)
This is one of the parent questions in these playoffs: Is Mike Budenholzer ready to throw away the foundation that Milwaukee has gotten so far Style, if the situation requires it? His playoff record does not indicate an immediate adaptability in wholesale. Only Orlando changed less frequently than the Bucks per Second Spectrum. At some point – maybe now – Milwaukee will have to diversify.
It's not even clear who benefits from Boston becoming small and Lopez playing off the floor. It could mean that Boston's little bullet has devastated Milwaukee. It could mean that Milwaukee has taken preventive action – and has eliminated Boston's mismatch advantage. What is the balance between the Celtics and their best lineups while the match between Lopez and Horford remains on the board?
But as long as Brogdon is not there, the descent of Lopez could be a talent for the Bucks. Someone from Brown, Hill, Pat Connaughton and maybe even Tony Snell will work as an extra perimeter guy in these non-Lopez lineups. The joint performance of this group will be a swing factor.
It's playoff time. Do not miss these games.
Sunday (All times ET)
• Celtics-Bucks | 1 o'clock in the afternoon | ABC
• Rockets-Warriors | 3:30 in the afternoon. | ABC
• Raptors-76ers | 8 pm | ESPN
Lopez is better than all these guys. An upgrade in the customization may not be enough to balance the talent. (That's why Budenholzer could play against Boston's bigger outfits with a super big trio of Mirotic, Antetokounmpo and Lopez – at least if Brogdon fails. Play your best guys.)
When Boston hides Irving in defense, It will be in the Brown / Hill / Connaughton / Snell group. Maybe Boston will not hide it. The Celtics have not feared the match between Irving and Bledsoe, and Bledsoe has broken up with them last season. (Where are you, Scary Terry?) But when Milwaukee Brown starts, the option is there.
The Bucks will attack Irving anyway. This is Milwaukee's simplest counterattack when Horford bothers Antetokounmpos one-on-one game. The Bucks can push Irving's guy with Antetokounmpo into one side of the pick-and-roll. Switch and Irving is toast. Do something else – stay home, go under, help and recover – and you should do it without leaving an airspace for antetokounmpo.
(Yes, this game is about Smart.) Milwaukee should – and probably will – do more with Irving.)
Using Antetokounmpo as a screener is the best antidote (if Milwaukee needs one) ) when Horford lurks on his drives. It can hit Boston unprepared. It triggers the rotations that Boston wants to avoid. The Celtics can dive below screens when Antetokounmpo's pick-and-roll runs, but not when it's the best choice:
The Bucks can transfer the same concept from the ball – and address it to Irving:
I keep coming back Coming back to this: The Bucks can play antitokounmpo 42 (or more) of 48 minutes if they have to. He can overwhelm any other Celtic except Horford. Antetokounmpo has reached the territory of LeBron: People who look like they have to earn "Antetokounmpo" are really just a Roadkill guard "Antetokounmpo." They will get all chances, with some possessions they will get up, if the circumstances are right: If the Bucks Antetokounmpo get the ball too late in the firing clock or in a bad position or if Boston can send the necessary help.
But do not leave them alone against Antetokounmpo over and over again and he will eat them alive They urgently need help more urgent than Horford requires, and someone gets an open hand.
I'm also afraid to explain the mercury, quarrels where Celtics turned the corner, scoring 103.7 points 100 possessions against Indiana – the 12th place under the playoff teams and a mark that would have reached the last place in the regular season Hayward sa h mischievous and self-confident, but these things do not always evolve along a continuous upward movement. Tatum and Brown might collapse again.
Against the defense of the elite, you need some threshold for free throws and edge attacks to pass. Will Boston get enough?
Each time these Celtics collapsed – each time they encountered real adversity – they swayed on the edge. They needed time to get their bearings.
You have no time left. They do not have the best player or home court in a theoretical game 7. They have real matchup odds – enough to call Celtics six or seven.
But in the end, I trust Milwaukee's consistent work more than Boston's recently good mood and lead in the postseason experience.