After sweeping their first round opponents, the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics will face off in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The one vs. four seed series is a rematch of last year’s first round matchup, where Boston won in seven games.
This year, both teams take different forms. The Bucks are far better than last season, capturing 60 wins behind MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo and Coach of the Year frontrunner Mike Budenholzer. Boston has all the key players returning from last year, and have welcomed back Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward at full health.
With the winner advancing to the Conference Finals, Milwaukee vs. Boston has all the makings for a lengthy, exciting series.
The Bucks dominated the Pistons in the first round, winning their first playoff series as a franchise since 2001. Antetokounmpo, who averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds in the series, led Milwaukee to blow-out wins in every game. He and his teammates will face a much tougher challenge against the Celtics.
Outside of The Greek Freak’s phenomenal stats, the Bucks have assembled a strong roster of shooters and defenders. Khris Middleton, a first-time All-Star this season, averaged 18 points, six rebounds and four assists during the regular season, and shot 46 percent from three against the Pistons.
Eric Bledsoe also had a great season, averaging 16 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists this year. Bledsoe will be a huge factor against Boston, as he will be matched up against Kyrie Irving. Given his performance against Terry Rozier and the Celtics last year, Bledsoe should be motivated to have a big series.
The Bucks have had an outstanding season behind Antetokounmpo. For him to be considered among the league’s best, he will have to lead the Bucks past a tough Celtics team. The regular season stats are important, but superstars are made in the playoffs.
After a tumultuous season led them to the fourth seed in the East, Boston defeat the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers in four games. Despite high expectations to start the year, the Celtics come into this series against the Bucks as the underdog.
In the first round, Irving led Boston with 22.5 points and 7.8 assists per game, including 37 points in Game 2.
At the wing position, the Celtics have three great players in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and with Gordon Hayward coming off the bench. Hayward is seemingly getting back to his old self more every game, scoring 20 points off 7-9 shooting in Game 4.
While Boston had a less successful regular season, their playoff experience gives them an advantage against Milwaukee. Irving has played in multiple NBA Finals, and even without him, last year’s Celtics were a game away from winning the conference. Milwaukee has yet to prove themselves fully in the postseason.
Boston and Milwaukee rank in the top three for team defensive rating this season. However, Milwaukee has the edge offensively. The key to the series will be who the Celtics throw at Antetokounmpo in hopes of slowing him down. Big men Aaron Baynes and Marcus Morris could handle this assignment while Al Horford defends Brook Lopez, a good matchup in and of itself.
Boston can defend well at each position, but Milwaukee’s offensive talent and shooting ability could be too much. The Bucks could end up taking this series in six.
However, the Celtics’ biggest factor is Irving’s late-game ability. While Antetokounmpo is spectacular, he has yet to prove himself when it matters the most, going 7-17 in last year’s Game 7 in Boston. This series is arguably the biggest test of his career.
Irving has proven that he can take over in crunch time and lead his team to victory. If this series goes seven games, look for the Celtics to come out on top on Milwaukee’s home court.
Boston in seven
Featured image credited to Getty Images.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.