After a Game 1 that was, to quote Kevin Garnett, a bar fight, the Celtics and Bucks meet once again on the Celtics home court. They have had one day to recover from the first game. Both coaches will have made some adjustments. The Bucks have to figure out what to do with Al Horford and 4 other Celtics who scored in double figures in Game 1.
After fouling out, Antetokounmpo was upset with the officiating and will more than likely come into this game motivated to play even harder than he did in the first game. He said that he had to guard Horford better without fouling in this game. The Celtics need to play better defense overall as well as do better on the boards. The Celtics also need to shoot better.
Eric Bledsoe struggled in Game 1 and will certainly look to play better in this game. The Celtics will need to keep him from doing so. Antetokounmpo and Middleton will likely play well again but the Celtics need to try to limit them in this one. Greg Monroe and Aron Baynes could play much better as can Semi. And Morris, Tatum and Brown both have to continue their strong play.
The Celtics are still without Kyrie Irving, who was seeing walking without crutches at Game 1, Marcus Smart, who was shooting baskets before the game, Daniel Theis and Gordon Hayward. Tony Snell left the game on Sunday after taking a hard fall, but he later returned and the Bucks still have no one listed on the injury report.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Marcus Smart (thumb) out
Probable Bucks Starters
Al Horford vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Celtics will get a motivated “Greek Freak” in this game after he felt he was unfairly treated by the refs in the last game. The Last Two Minutes report did admit to a few errors that went both ways. Antetokounmpo averaged 26.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game in the regular season. He is shooting 53.5% from the field but just 37.3% out of the painted area. He had 35 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals in Game 1. Al finished Game 1 with 24 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals. The Celtics will need another big game on both ends of the floor from Al if they want to get a win in Game 2.
Jayson Tatum vs Khris Middleton
Middleton averaged 20.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in the regular season. In Game 1, Middleton had 31 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. He shot 60% from the field and 71% from beyond the arc, including a HUGE 3 to tie the game in regulation in Game 1. Tatum had 19 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 5 turnovers in Game 1. It goes without saying that the Celtics need to do a better job defending Middleton in this game. Tatum also needs to try to eliminate his turnovers.
Terry Rozier vs Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game in the regular season. He is shooting 34.7% from beyond the arc. Rozier clearly outplayed Bledsoe in Game 1 with 23 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal along with no turnovers to 9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 turnovers for Bledsoe. Rozier also shot 44.4% from beyond the arc including a huge go ahead 3 at the end of regulation while Bledsoe was 0-2 from beyond the arc. The Celtics will need more of that from Rozier in this game on both ends of the court and hopefully more of the same from Bledsoe as well.
Celtics Bench vs Bucks Bench
With all of the injuries, the Celtics bench has been depleted. They are missing Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart, who have been big for them off the bench all season. With Terry Rozier in the starting lineup, that weakens the bench even more. The Celtics will depend heavily on veterans Marcus Morris, Greg Monroe, and Shane Larkin along with rookies Yabusele, Nader and Ojeleye. On the other hand, The Bucks have last year’s Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon, veterans Matthew Dellavedova, Brandon Jennings, Jason Terry, and Tyler Zeller coming off the bench along with Jabari Parker who is playing very well since coming back from injury. The Celtics reserves scored 27 points (21 points from Morris) to 23 points for the Bucks reserves (16 from Brogdon) in Game 1. The Celtics could use even more from their reserves in this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The old adage that Defense wins Championships is very true, especially as teams go into the playoffs. The Celtics have been a tough defensive team all season and finished with a defensive rating of 101.5, best in the league. The Bucks’ defensive rating is 107.1, which is 17th. On the other hand, the Bucks have an offensive rating of 107.8 (7th) while the Celtics have an offensive rating of 101.5 (18th). If the Celtics are going to win this series, it will be with their defense. The Bucks shot 48.2% from the field and the Celtics need to clamp down even more on defense in this game.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding will be key for the Celtics. The Celtics can’t score if they don’t have the ball. 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 barely out-rebounded the Bucks in game 45-43 in Game 1. The Celtics must continue to crash the glass as a team and give even more effort on the boards in this game.
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. The Bucks may have the biggest star and more talent due to the Celtics injuries, but the Celtics have to be the team with more fight and that plays harder.
Move the Ball Carefully - he 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. However, the Celtics must make careful passes as the Bucks are 2nd in steals with 8.8 per game and 2nd in points off turnovers with 18.3 per game. The Celtics did a good job of this in Game 1, turning the ball over 15 times to 20 turnovers for the Bucks. They need to try to cut down on turnovers even more.
Coaching - Some analysts have said that this is the biggest match up in the series. Stevens has been lauded as one of the top coaches in the league and is a candidate for the coach of the year. In spite of injuries disrupting the lineup all season long, Brad has kept the team on an even keel and winning. Prunty has less than half a season in as head coach, in spite of his seasons as an assistant. Brad took a rag-tag Celtics team to the ECF last season while this is Prunty’s first experience as head coach in the playoffs. Both coaches will make adjustments between Game 1 and Game 2. Hopefully Brad is up to the task and has the Celtics well prepared for this game.
Home Court Advantage - Teams play all season to have home court advantage in the playoffs. During the season, the Celtics actually had a better road record (28-13) than home record (27-14). The Bucks, however, were a much better team at home (25-16) than on the road (19-22). Marcus Morris gave the Celtics crowd credit for their first game win. The Celtics will once again depend on the Garden crowd to be loud and give them a boost while also rattling the Bucks. Hopefully the crowd counts the seconds out loud for each of Antetokounmpo’s free throws.
Officiating - The officiating was decent in Game 1 with the officials letting both teams play for the most part. In the last 2 minutes report for Game 1, there were 5 incorrect calls in the last 2 minutes and overtime with 4 of those going against the Celtics and 1 against the Bucks. However, the officials overall were good. Officiating in the NBA is like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates - you never know what you will get.
Antetokounmpo got away with quite a bit of traveling along with taking over 10 seconds on most of his free throws. He also got away with some offensive fouls as he shoved off on quite a few of his drives. The Celtics got away with a lot of reaching in on defense and a couple of travels themselves. But overall they didn’t favor either team.
Mark Davis is the lead referee in this game and in an LA Times survey in 2016, players and coaches voted him one of the worst referees in the league so he may very well be an X-factor.
Mark Ayotte tends to be a homer referee, which may be a good thing. In spite of Davis being the lead ref, I hope the refs once again let them play and call it fairly.