This is the second of three games between these two teams this season. The Celtics won 117-113 when they faced off at the Garden on November 1 of this season, handing the Bucks their first loss of the season. They will meet a third, and final time on February 21 in Milwaukee.
The Celtics come into this game on a 2 game losing streak while the Bucks have won 3 in a row. The Celtics are 5th in the East, 1 game behind Indiana and 1.5 games behind Philadelphia. The Bucks are 2nd, 1.5 games behind first place Toronto and 3 games in front of Boston. The Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10 games while the Bucks are 7-3 in their last 10 games.
With so many injuries and uncertainty, it’s hard to predict who Brad will start. I have included Jaylen and Jayson in the starting lineup with Jayson starting at power forward as he did in Wednesday’s game. I’m also guessing that Daniel Theis will start at center in the absence of both Horford and Baynes. I can, however see Brad starting Semi Ojeleye at power forward since he had some success guarding Antetokounmpo in last year’s playoffs and bringing Jaylen off the bench.
The Celtics have been hit hard with injuries. Horford has missed 6 straight games and is expected to miss this one also. Guerschon Yabusele has been out since spraining his ankle on December 8 but isn’t currently on the Celtics injury list for this game and is probable to play. His return would be a boost to their very thin front court. Marcus Morris missed Wednesday’s game and is also listed as out for this game. Aron Baynes is expected to miss a month after breaking his hand against the Suns on Wednesday. For the Bucks, Ersan Ilyasova is listed as day to day.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Terry Rozier III
Robert Williams III
Marcus Morris, Sr (knee) out
Jabari Bird (personal) out
Aron Baynes (hand) out
Guerschon Yabusele (ankle) probable
Al Horford (knee) out
P. J. Dozier
Probable Bucks Starters
D. J. Wilson
Ersan Ilyasova (nose) day to day
Jayson Tatum vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
The matchup with Antetokounmpo is very important. He is averaging 26.7 points, 12.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 1.3 blocks. He is by far the Bucks best player. If he has any weakness it is his 12.5% 3 point percentage. It goes without saying that it would be very good if Marcus Morris can play. Of course, Brad may start Semi as he did in last year’s playoffs.
Kyrie Irving vs Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe is averaging 16 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. He is also shooting 50% from the field and 35.2% from beyond the arc. He will need to work on defense in this game as he tries to limit Kyrie, who has been playing very well for the Celtics.
Jaylen Brown vs Khris MiddletonMiddleton is averaging 17.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and is shooting 38.5% from beyond the arc. This may end up being Jayson vs Middleton if Marcus Morris can play or if he chooses to start Semi Ojeleye.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always key to getting a win. The Celtics have dropped to 3rd in the league with a defensive rating of 102.9. The Bucks are 5th with a defensive rating of 104.7. However, the Bucks are 1st in the league in scoring with 117.8 points per game. The Celtics are 14th, averaging 111.2 points per game. The Bucks lead the league in both points in the paint (54.7) and points from beyond the arc (41.7) and so the Celtics must defend both inside and out if they want to slow them down. If the Celtics want to win this game, they will have to do it with lock down defense.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding is a big key to winning. The Celtics are averaging 46.1 rebounds while the Bucks are averaging 49.8 rebounds per game. Rebounding takes effort and so the Celtics must work harder to crash the boards. This is where they will miss Baynes the most.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the team that wants the game more. After the Suns game, Brad said that the Suns just wanted it more. The Celtics have to be aggressive in going after loose balls and on defense and going to the basket and grabbing rebounds. The Celtics must have an aggressive mindset and not let the Bucks outplay them. The Celtics have to play with energy and toughness because the Bucks certainly will.
Play Team Ball - When the Celtics move the ball and find the open man, they are tough to beat. The Bucks are averaging 26.5 assists per game vs 25.2 assists for the Celtics. The Celtics need to move the ball and trust each other and not lapse into hero ball. When they keep the ball moving, good things happen. When the ball sticks and players try to do too much it usually ends up in a loss. They have to play unselfish Celtics team basketball.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have tended to get off to a fast start and build a lead and then let up or they start off slow and have to play catch up the entire game. They can’t afford to have a let down during games against good teams like the Bucks. They must play hard and play smart from the opening tip until the final buzzer. The Bucks will be quick to take advantage of any lapse in the Celtics’ effort or play.
Home Court Advantage - The Celtics are 9-4 at home while the Bucks are 7-6 on the road. The Celtics have to use their home court to give them an advantage over the Bucks, who have struggled somewhat on the road at times. The crowd should be loud and up for the game and the Celtics need to get a boost from their fans to give it that little extra they need to get by the Bucks.
Revenge Factor - The Bucks were bounced from the playoffs last season by the Celtics and then lost to the Celtics in the first meeting this season. They are bound to want to avenge those losses and will come out strong and ready to get a win in this one. The Celtics have to be ready for that extra effort from the Bucks and match their energy.