If you’ll excuse the pun: The Bucks stop here.
That’d be the Milwaukee Bucks, who travel to Boston this weekend to kick off a first-round NBA playoff series with the Celtics.
It’s a No. 2 vs. No. 7 matchup on paper, but Celtics-Bucks could be a lot more interesting than seeding suggests, considering Boston is without all-world point guard Kyrie Irving, who played in three of the teams’ four meetings this season.
So, how do the Irving-less Celtics match up against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the enigmatic Bucks? Let’s break it down.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Tied 2-2; Celtics 409, Bucks 403
Celtics: Gordon Hayward (out for season), Kyrie Irving (out for season), Daniel Theis (out for season), Marcus Smart (could be cleared April 27)
Projected starting lineups
Celtics: PG Terry Rozier, SG Jaylen Brown, SF Jayson Tatum, PF Al Horford, C Aron Baynes
Bucks: PG Eric Bledsoe, SG Tony Snell, SF Khris Middleton, PF Giannis Antetokounmpo, C John Henson
CELTICS’ KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Small-game hunting. Irving and Smart combined to average 33.6 points over their three games against the Bucks. That’s a lot of backcourt scoring to replace. Much of the workload will fall to Rozier, who missed the Celtics’ loss to Milwaukee on April 3 but has emerged as one of the team’s go-to scoring options. The Bucks’ length makes them exceptionally adept at defending the paint, but if the likes of Rozier, Brown and Tatum can stretch the floor effectively, it should open things up for Boston’s offense.
2. Keep the Bucks outside. Milwaukee’s length also creates serious matchup problems for opposing defenses, with Antetokounmpo as the primary threat. But the Bucks’ weakness is their outside shooting — they ranked 22nd in the NBA in 3-point percentage this season. The C’s must crowd the lane to stop the Greek Freak from posterizing Baynes again, forcing Milwaukee’s streaky shooters to try to beat them from beyond the arc.
BUCKS’ KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Unleash the Greek Freak. The 23-year-old wunderkind was a monster against Boston this season, averaging 33.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and five assists over four contests. Bledsoe and Middleton are solid role players with decent strokes, while Jabari Parker and Malcolm Brogdon could be X factors. But let’s be honest: The Bucks’ playoff hopes rest squarely on Antetokounmpo’s unfairly broad shoulders.
2. Pounce on defense. The Bucks’ defense has been inconsistent all season, but they’re capable of stifling opponents with their length and versatility. The Celtics come in with limited firepower, and if the good version of Milwaukee’s defense shows up on multiple nights, this series could come down to the wire.
Celtics in 6. The absence of Irving and Smart leaves the door open for the Bucks. But Brad Stevens’ club will close it. Tatum and Brown have stepped up valiantly as legitimate scoring threats, while Rozier, Marcus Morris and Horford give the Celtics at least enough offensive potency to advance past a Milwaukee team that’s still a season or two away from taking the next step.