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Turnovers will play major role for Bucks and Celtics

The opening contest between Boston and Milwaukee produced a staggering 35 combined turnovers. Moving forward, could the takeaway battle be the box score column to closely monitor?

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Boston and Milwaukee’s rosters are built similarly. Both teams are long and athletic, each loaded with interchangeable perimeter players capable of disrupting passing and driving lanes. When their respective defenses are clicking on all cylinders, windows become quickly clogged with waves of active hands and arms. At their best, each team relentlessly pressures ball handlers, and forces opponents to execute with pinpoint precision.

Turnovers were a significant factor in the result of Game 1, and whichever team can grab hold of the takeaway battle may have a meaningful edge for the rest of the series. The Bucks surrendered 20 on Sunday afternoon, seven more than their season average. Meanwhile, the Celtics gave up 15 of their own, and were -9 in points off turnovers differential.

During the second quarter, a period when the Bucks surged on a 26-4 run, Boston coughed up a number of critical live ball turnovers, which allowed the Bucks to run ahead of the retreating Celtics defense. For Milwaukee, getting the ball into Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe’s hands in the open floor is critical toward invalidating Boston’s top ranked defense. Both are rangy and clever drivers who can change speed and direction like high-powered sports cars.

The C’s hang their hat on switchability and perimeter pressure, but those assets were negated when they allowed the Bucks to run wild downhill. Milwaukee finished the regular season with the 2nd most points generated off of turnovers. Stopping Antetokounmpo in half-court sets is a difficult task, but defending freight train Greek Freak in the open floor is nearly impossible:

The Bucks were limited to five offensive rebounds, and had just 83 field goal attempts in regulation and overtime. Only two teams (Utah and Memphis) averaged less than that total on a per game basis during the regular season. If Boston can sustain their ability to force steals and limit second chance opportunities, then Milwaukee will have to maximize shot utility for the remainder of the series.

Earning fast break layups for Giannis, who shot a blistering 70 percent within five feet of the rim, is their best avenue. For Boston, the luxury of setting the half court defense affords you more opportunities to deploy multiple help defenders at Antetokounmpo.

Turnovers will be important for the Celtics, too. With Kyrie Irving sidelined, every opportunity to create an easy layup or transition 3-pointer will be critical for the Celtics in these playoffs. Understandably, the laundry list of injuries leaves them susceptible to unbearable pointless droughts, and their half-court offense looked stuck in the mud on too many possessions. To alleviate those concerns, they have to generate more than the ten transition points that they produced in game 1.

Boston was 26th in fast break points this season. That rate has to improve now that teams will be raising their defensive energy for the playoffs. Scoring in half-court sets is difficult enough for these Celtics, but remaining offensively efficient is a taller task when the opponent has extra days off to scheme.

As we’ve consistently seen all season, Brad Stevens’ team showed their ability to kickstart the offense with their smothering defense. Eight of Milwaukee’s 20 turnovers occurred in the opening period, which allowed the Celts to build momentum en route to a 15-0 run of their own. 51.7 percent of Boston’s first quarter points came off of takeaways or unforced errors.

It would be naive to rely on the idea of Milwaukee surrendering 20 turnovers again. Their sloppiness only reached that level on one other occasion this season. Bledsoe, who hadn’t appeared in a playoff game since 2013, committed a team-high 5 turnovers. Antetokoumpo and Khris Middleton combined for seven of their own. Expect the Bucks’ stars to settle in as they becomes more comfortable with Boston’s defensive pressure.

Thus, the law of averages suggests that Boston could have fewer fast break opportunities in Game 2, and they have to take advantage of those limited chances. Manufacturing live ball turnovers not only leads to easy baskets, but it raises the energy level. For a relatively inexperienced team like Milwaukee, fighting the sea of crowd noise from an 18,000+ at TD Garden is a daunting task.

While the C’s (and every team who isn’t the Cleveland Cavaliers) lack a dynamic fast break weapon like Antetokounmpo, Boston has an abundance of wings and ball handlers who fit the mold of a fast break team:

  • Shane Larkin had a rough Game 1 with twice as many turnovers as assists. However, until Marcus Smart returns, Larkin will have to be a tone-setter, using his facilitation and vision in the open court.
  • For a big man, Al Horford possesses exceptional dribbling and passing skills. Pair that with his aptitude to go coast-to-coast when he desires, and he will create some attackable mismatches if John Henson and Tyler Zeller don’t hustle back on defense.
  • Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier’s nuclear athleticism allow them to play through contact and finish above the rim when filling lanes.
  • Throughout the season, Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Semi Ojeleye have learned how to space the floor by running flat to the corner in transition, and each have become reliable marksmen for those coveted new-age transition 3’s.

Just remember, Giannis is not the only freakishly lanky combo-forward who is able to get from half court to the rim with one or two dribbles.

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