The Celtics and Bucks meet for the 3rd of 4 games this season. The Bucks came to Boston for the Celtics home opener. It was the day after the Celtics lost Gordon Hayward to the gruesome injury and the Celtics were playing in back to back games and just didn't have enough to overcome the Greek Freak and company. The Bucks won that game 108-100.
They met a second time on October 26 when the Celtics avenged their opening loss with a 96-89 win over the Bucks in Milwaukee. They will meet one more time in Milwaukee on April 3. Both teams have won 4 of their last 5 games. The Celtics have won their last two games while the Bucks have won their last 3 straight. The Celtics are 10-2 at home while the Bucks are 6-5 on the road.
The Bucks have slipped to 6.5 games behind the Celtics. However, the Cavs are charging up the standings behind 11 straight wins to get to within 3.5 games of the Celtics. With the Cavs facing the Bulls on Monday, the Celtics need a win in this game to keep pace. The Raptors are just 4.5 games back followed by the Pistons, and Sixers.
Since these two teams last played, the Bucks have traded Greg Monroe to the Suns in return for Eric Bledsoe, who is starting at the point for the Bucks. Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic have joined Jabari Parker on the injured list, all out with knee injuries. The Celtics have just Gordon Hayward out with the ankle injury.
In the first game, the Celtics started Irving, Smart, Brown, Tatum and Horford. In the second game, they started Irving, Brown, Tatum, Horford, and Theis. Morris was still out with the knee injury for the first two games so I'm going to guess that they will start Irving Brown, Tatum, Horford and Baynes.
I haven't been very good at predicting who would start over the past few games so it will probably be Morris or even Theis again with Baynes off the bench. I’m thinking that Horford is the better player to cover Antetokounmpo and Baynes will give them more length in the starting lineup to match up better with the Bucks. I've listed the starting lineup for the Bucks that is given in their game notes.
Probable Celtics Starters
Kyrie Irving...Jaylen Brown... Jayson Tatum...Al Horford...Aron Baynes
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Probable Bucks Starters
Eric Bledsoe...Tony Snell...Khris Middleton...Giannis Antetokounmpo...John Henson
Jabari Parker (knee) out
Mirza Teletovic (knee) out
Matthew Dellavedova (knee) out
Gary Payton II
Kyrie Irving vs Eric Bledsoe
In the first two games between these teams, Kyrie faced last season's rookie of the year at the point. Since then they have brought in Eric Bledsoe who has been playing very well for them and has them winning games. He is averaging 16.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Al Horford vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
"The Greek Freak" is a tough cover for anyone and Al Horford will get the job of trying to slow Antetokounmpo down. I originally thought that Morris might get the start and would cover Antetokounmpo but then I thought of how well Al defends and thought we might be better with Horford and Baynes getting the start with the length of the Bucks. Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.4 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. Hopefully Marcus is up to the task.
Jayson Tatum vs Khris Middleton
Middleton is averaging 19.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists while Tatum is averaging 13.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1 steal. Both players are good defenders and will look to make it difficult for the other to have a big game in this one. This should be a good matchup to watch.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics have been playing good defense this season, still at the top of the league with a 98.9 defensive rating. Their defense has been slipping a bit recently, however and so they have to get back to making tough team defense a priority. The Bucks' defensive rating is 105.2, which is 16th.
Move the Ball - The Celtics have shown some very good ball movement at times and at other times, the ball seems to stick and players try to do too much. When the ball sticks, it rarely ends well. When the Celtics move the ball and find the open man, they are tough to beat. They have to continue that in this game.
Rebound - The Celtics can't score if they don't have the ball. The Celtics struggled to rebound last season but have been rebounding much better this season. However, like the defense, it has slipped somewhat in recent games. It takes effort to rebound and when the Celtics put out that extra effort to get rebounds, it usually translates to other areas of their game. The Celtics are 9th in the league with 45.0 rebounds per game while the Bucks, in spite of having Antetounmpo attacking the glass, are last with just 38.3 rebounds per game. If the Celtics continue to crash the glass as a team, they give themselves a much better chance to get a win.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team from start to finish. They have to be aggressive in going after loose balls and on defense and going to the basket and grabbing rebounds. The more aggressive team usually gets the benefit of the calls also. They need to be the team that wants it more for all 48 minutes. No let up.
Home Game - The Celtics are home and should get a boost from the home crowd, who will hopefully be loud. The Bucks came off of a 4 game road trip for a home game against the Kings on Saturday and then were on the road again for this game. The Celtics are in the midst of a 5 game home stand. Hopefully the Celtics can protect their home court.
Revenge - The Bucks are responsible for one of the Celtics 2 home losses this season. That loss was the day after Gordon Hayward's injury and the Celtics hadn't found their identity as yet. They are a much better team now than they were in that game. They need to play Celtics basketball and avenge that first loss on their court because the Bucks, now with Bledsoe at the point is going to try to get back at the Celtics for spoiling their return to the Mecca night with a loss.