In the second round of the playoffs there is no more exciting series than the Bucks versus Celtics. This is a matchup of regular season juggernaut versus playoff experience.
Ways to win
After an inconsistent regular season, and an easy win in the first round over a Victor Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers, the Boston Celtics have become a difficult team to predict. Many folks don’t know whether to stick or twist with these guys.
On the one hand, you’ve got a stacked roster; full of young talent such as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to alongside the experienced heads of Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, all of whom have playoff notches on their belts. But during the regular season, this was also a team low on morale. It lacked confidence, synergy and togetherness as a group. While that could be enough to make a significant dent in the Eastern Conference playoffs in previous years, not anymore.
The thing that makes this particular series so hard to predict is the part that what the Celtics lack, the Milwaukee Bucks have an over-abundance of. Milwaukee is a unit built around a hard-working, well-oiled, team-orientated defensive machine. They were the number one defense in the regular season, and can protect the rim like no other.
So how should the Celtics attempt to stop this machine? It’s simple (it’s not.) Shoot threes, shoot lots of them, and try not to miss any, at all.
Throughout his brief time as Bucks’ Head Coach Mike Budenholzer has preached about how, in order to defend in the NBA, you have to protect the rim. The Bucks can defend in every single way possible, but they’re at their strongest when they release the pressure on defending the three-point line and lock down the paint through Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez instead. If the Celtics are going to win this series, they are going to have to go all in on offense and Irving, Horford and Tatum are going to have to rain threes consistently. I wouldn’t hurt if a streaky shooter, such as Marcus Morris, got hot for a minute either.
Meanwhile, not many things have been as consistent and enjoyable in 2019 as the overwhelming force that is Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. The team has the best record in the regular season (60-22) with the best defensive rating (105.2) and the fourth best offensive rating (113.8). There really isn’t a whole lot of advice one could give over than to keep doing what you are doing.
So far in the Playoffs, the Bucks haven’t struggled. Sweeping the Detroit Pistons with a hobbling Blake Griffin (who only appeared in two games), was not a sufficient challenge for a group dubbed as ‘just a regular season team’. The Celtics will definitely provide a worthy match-up for these Eastern Conference challengers, just as they did in last year.
One player who struggled in last season’s playoff series between these two teams was Eric Bledsoe. He will have a big part to play in this series on both ends of the floor, particularly with Brogdon’s injury. His defensive assignments will likely be Irving and Terry Rozier. It is important that he prevents both from heating up from beyod the three-point line. Much like the whole Bucks team, Bledsoe will be eager to show how he has improved offensively from last April. Coming up against Terry Rozier, who had a very impressive defensive efficiency rating (84.3), in the first round against Pacers, will be a true test of his ability.
Boston Celtics – Al Horford
In addition getting hot from long range, the Celtics have got to hit Lopez persistently with the pick-and-roll offense. The Playoffs are all about match-ups, no detail will be spared in Head Coach Brad Stevens’ preparation. Lopez’s biggest weakness on defense is his significant lack of mobility, and this is one of very few flaws in Milwaukee’s game.
The key to exploiting this, and the key player for the Boston Celtics offense in this series, is Horford in a pick and pop. This achieves one of two things: an easy three-point look as Lopez lumbers out of the paint like a redwood tree falling in a forest, or it gives Horford an opportunity to utilise his skill as a passer and find a team mate cutting in to the space Lopez has relinquished.
Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo
Antetokounmpo is undoubtedly the key player for Bucks in this series. Listen, I’m a Brook guy. It took all my strength not to pick Brook as my key player. But Giannis being Giannis allows Brook to thrive: he gets to shoot threes and cause all sorts of mismatch trouble. Brook is a block party, and has been an important rim protector at the five for Bucks this season, but he also complements the Greek Freak perfectly.
His versatility enables Antetokounmpo to slot in to the center role on defense, and stretches the floor on offense at times. Having Antetokounmpo drift between positions enables him to be at his best. He can switch between point guard, center and wing, and the likes of Lopez and Khris Middleton are versatile enough to enable this to happen.
We have seen Horford suck the life out of guys he’s guarding at times. An example of this is the effect he had on Embiid in the 2018 playoffs, restricting him to 8 field goals from 22 and 10 from 26 in game two and three. But Antetokounmpo is a nightmare to defend, and at times can be a mismatch for everyone in the NBA. He just keeps everyone guessing. That is the key to winning this series. Keeping Al Horford guessing.
Bucks win. But unlike the first round, they’re tested. Bucks in six. Sorry, Celtics fans.
Feature photo – Benny Sieu / USA TODAY Sports / Getty Images / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington