It looks like the regular season wasn't enough for these two teams to hash it out. After drawing even, 2-2 during regular-season action, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks will need, potentially, seven more games to see who can best the other. It'll have to be the best of eleven!
Granted, the Celtics weren't completely right in the two losses that they took to the Bucks. The first was the second game of the season, just a number of hours after their new compadre Gordon Hayward broke his ankle into a million, tiny, crumb-sized, little pieces (potentially exaggerated). The Celtics lost the game 108-100, causing all of Celtics' nation to flip their shit because of the teams' winless start.
The second L came when literally every point guard on the squad was out with injuries (not exaggerated). The Celtics called up Kadeem Allen from the Maine Red Claws to fill the void, who did his duty by playing tight defense and not Abel Nader-ing it with turnovers the whole game. Nevertheless, his presence wasn't enough to match the Bucks' deep guard position, and the Cs lost 106-102.
A major reason for those Milwaukee Ws, and for their overall success in the past few seasons, is Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Giannis was the only player for the Bucks to score over 20 points in both of their victories over the Celtics, where he dropped a double-double each time. In the game that was veiled by Gordon Hayward's disfigured shadow, he put up 37 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals, and was quietly unstoppable. He didn't show much flash, and besides a few slameroos, just put the ball through the net as easily as bad parents and weirdos give candy to babies.
In the team's most recent victory over the Celtics, the Greek Freak again led the way with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists. His two sidekicks, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton, chipped in a bit more this game to aid the effort. Bledsoe finished with 18 points and 4 assist on 8-of-9 shooting, and Middleton with a near triple-double of 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists, but still, Giannis stole the show and clearly led the team to their four-point win.
The Celtics will surely need to suffocate Giannis during the series, even it means equipping some goon with pillows and the address to the Bucks' hotel, in a Red Auerbach-like-effort (@fbi just kidding). Even still, whether on or off the court, one assassin won't be enough. It's going to take an entire secret society of mercenaries to stop Giannis, and Aron Baynes agrees.
Aron Baynes on defending the Giannis: "It's going to be a team effort. It's not one man's job. It's a full five-man string. We got to all be playing defense and build from that. He's a very talented and great player. We just got to lock in and do a good job collectively."
Baynes himself, will be a crucial piece in slowing down Giannis, as the majority of his baskets against the Celtics this season have come in the paint.
The Cs' bigs will need top-notch posture in the series, or I'll be sounding like my father, yelling at the players from my couch, demanding that they straighten their backs and stand tall. They'll need to get in Giannis's way when he drives, and will need to do it as cleanly as possible. The only way to do that down low is to stand as tall as you can with hands reaching for the heavens. Just be a block in the road. Contest. Make it difficult for the freak in his most deadly spot.
But I think the brunt of the load will be on Al Hoford's shoulders. Al matches up with Giannis better than most in the league, as both are versatile players who regularly play out of their listed positions. Giannis, who is technically listed as a power-foward on NBA.com, has played at every position on the floor this season and is constantly a mismatch-nightmare for any lineup that he goes up against. Similarly, Al Horford can get big on the post as a center, but has also taken the ball up the floor, running point and setting up the offense, on many occasions.
Both players matchup height-wise (Horford 6'10", Giannis 6'11"), play-making-ability-wise (Horford 4.7 assists per game, Giannis 4.8), and as previously mentioned, skillset-wise. Of course, Giannis takes the cake, being a MVP candidate this season and most likely for many seasons to come, but Al surely has got what it takes to make an impact on the young'n's performance. It is, after all, only Giannis's second time making it into the post-season. Al will be asked to take Giannis when he's midrange, and will need to help his teammates by clogging the lane when the Freak drives.
I think we can expect Semi Ojeleye to get decent minutes during this series as well. He's a proven Giannis-killer.
And here's the thing: here in Boston, we're all attempting to strategize ways to stop Giannis from scoring. He's is, after all, averaging 33.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 5.0 assists against the green-team this season, and is clearly the riddle-causing Sphinx that is standing in their path to the second round of the NBA playoffs. But the Bucks have a monster of their own to dealwith if they want to progress on their journey: Al Horford.
Al has been to the playoffs every season of his career, except once, and in last year's post-season impressed mightily. He averaged 15.1 points on .584 shooting from the field and .519 from deep, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game, and helped lead the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals.
He's also had the Bucks' number all season, and is surely making Milwaukee coach, Joe Prunty, lose sleep as he tries to find a solution for Playoff Al.
I'm not too worried about the Celtics' defensively in the matchup. Sure, the Bucks have some fire power, but those guys can mostly be found at smaller positions, where the Celtics are strong defensively. Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin should be able to limit Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon until Marcus Smart returns from his injury, and Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, and the team's various, defensively sound rookies should hold their ground against Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker. Plus, the Celtics are a well oiled defensive machine. Their length and support for one another on the defensive end has helped to make them the best defensive team in the league this season.
The Bucks' big men are at the bottom of my to-do list.
Where I am a bit concerned is the Cs' offense. With Kyrie Irving out, the team will need to have the series's second best player, and hopefully, it's third and fourth best. Al Horford needs to break out of his shell and evolve into the fearsome Playoff Al, and Terry Rozier needs to put on his hockey mask and come out as his defense-killing alter-ego of Scary Terry.
If the young guns of Jaylen and Jayson Tatum can harness the playoff-hype and hit some shots, then I think the Cs have got this one in the bag. It'll be a bar fight, for sure. It's a great matchup. The Cs just need to play consistent, all-around ball, and everyone's going to have to contribute.
But the Cs have a secret weapon. An inside-man (pun) of sorts, who will definitely be a key-player in the matchup. Greg Monroe started the season with the Bucks, and is now ending it in Boston.
Greg Monroe on playing his former team in Round 1: “It’s the playoffs now. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is. … We hear the chatter [about Boston's injuries]. It’s already the playoffs but you just have to come out and exhibit some pride and prove people wrong."
Monroe's strength is his inside scoring, and this matchup is one that he should be able to take advantage of. He's averaging 10.2 points on 53% shooting with the Celtics, and has only improved as his tenure with the team has lengthened. Over the past six games, he's put up 13.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. In one of those games, he posted a triple-double of 19/11/10.
Al Horford said he thinks Greg Monroe will be a major contributor in the playoffs. “He’s been waiting for this.”
Monroe should feast on the Bucks' bigs of Tyler Zeller, Thon Maker, and John Henson, who are all decent NBA tall guys, but not skilled enough to stop one of the more lethal post-scorers in the NBA. The only potential threat of the three is Henson, who's averaging 1.4 blocks per game. Last time the Cs and Bucks played we saw this from Monroe. It seems as though he's fond of venison.
It will be interesting to see how the Celtics' thin roster will produce during the offseason. It may include the moment where the basketball gods reveal their newest Messiahs of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, or all three, and the Celtics officially become the team to reckon with for years to come. It could also be a major crash and burn for a team that was slotted to easily make it to the ECF when the season began.
But if history has told us anything, it's that the Bucks will lose to the Celtics in the playoffs, like they always have.
Lastly, here's these. I feel obligated to post them anytime Milwaukee is mentioned.