Why Bucks Present Biggest Challenge To Celtics En Route To NBA Finals

Boston's road certainly will not be easy

by

April 12

It might seem conflicting to attach the “biggest threat” label to a team that barely snuck out a six-point victory against a squad that resembled the Maine Celtics a week before the NBA playoffs, but make no mistake: That’s exactly what the Milwaukee Bucks are for the Boston Celtics.

With both teams sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference seedings, the Celtics at No. 2 and the Bucks at No. 3, the expectation is that history will repeat itself. Boston and Milwaukee have met twice in the past four postseasons, with the potential to now make it three times in five campaigns.

It would make for an incredibly entertaining semifinal series, one where the Celtics would have their hands full given Milwaukee’s ability on both ends of the floor.

The Bucks’ defensive mantra for nearly the entirety of head coach Mike Budenholzer’s tenure has been to sell out and pack the paint, allowing teams to get up 3-point shots at a high clip.

“That’s who they are,” Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said after Thursday’s game, as shared by CLNS Media. “Every time JB (Jaylen Brown) penetrated and guys got to the paint, there were four, five guys there. So we tell them: Take the first shot, clean shot you’re going to get, you might not get a better one in that possession.”

The Celtics will chuck up 3s — their 37 3-point attempts per game ranks ninth — but are middle of the pack when it comes to 3-point percentage (35.6%, ranked 14th). Milwaukee’s defensive approach has the Bucks ranked as the top defensive rebounding team in the league (36.5 per game). That said, the Bucks have allowed opponents to average 112 points per game. Boston, in comparison, has allowed 104.4 points per game, which is the lowest in the league.

And that doesn’t even take into account superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who continues to be one of the most impactful players late in games. The two-time NBA MVP and surefire All-NBA selection is tied for second in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring (8.4 points), and it shouldn’t serve as a surprise if the “Greek Freak” can lead the Bucks on another herculean championship run.

Come playoff time, Milwaukee takes the we’ll-let-one-guy-try-and-beat-us-while-we-shut-everyone-else-down approach. It’s the game plan the Bucks took against Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals and one fans can expect against Jayson Tatum and the Celtics.

“That’s what we want to do,” Antetokounmpo admitted Thursday, per a team-provided video. “We don’t want a lot of guys touching the ball, we just want one guy to basically beat us. … There are going to be nights where one guy cannot beat five.”

It begs the question(s): When there is five minutes left in a tight game, does Boston realistically have more than one player that can get it a bucket? Is the answer truly just Tatum? Or can Brown step up to be one of those guys, too?

Boston’s road to the championship begins with Game 1 of its first-round matchup on April 17. The Celtics will play the winner of Tuesday’s Brooklyn Nets vs. Cleveland Cavaliers play-in game. But should Boston advance, all signs point toward the group needing to hurdle past the Bucks in order to get to where they want to be.

That will be a difficult challenge.

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