The Celtics return to Milwaukee once again with a 3-2 lead in the series and a chance to close out the series in 6 games. They are coming into this game with confidence from a big win at home, but neither team has won on the road in this series. The Bucks were a good home team in the regular season with a 25-16 record. The Celtics were a better team on the road with a 28-13 record.
Since 2002, 29 of the 30 teams in the NBA have won at least one first round series. The only team not to win a series over that span is the Milwaukee Bucks. It has been 17 years since they have made it to the second round. That drought and the fact that they are down in the series 3-2 and facing elimination will make them the more desperate team. I expect them to come out strong with a mission to take the series to a Game 7.
John Henson is once again listed as doubtful although he was putting up shots at the shoot around this morning. Tyler Zeller has been starting for them at center with Thon Maker and Jabari Parker getting more minutes in Henson’s absence. They may decide to make a change after their loss in Game 5 or they may stick with the lineup that got them the two wins in Milwaukee in Games 3 and 4.
Brad Stevens made a surprising change to his starting lineup in Game 5 that paid dividends. He moved Semi Ojeleye to the starting lineup to defend against Giannis Antetokounmpo. Semi held Giannis to his lowest point total of the series. I expect Semi to get the start in this game as well unless Brad has another surprise up his sleeve.
Marcus Smart was cleared to play in Game 5 and he made an immediate impact, especially on the defensive end. He was a bit rusty from 6 weeks off and hopefully he can trim down the 5 turnovers he committed in his first game back. Gordon Hayward, Daniel Theis and Kyrie Irving remain out for the Celtics.
This could be the final game in the BMO Bradley Center as the Bucks are planning to move into a new arena next season. They are going to be motivated to play very hard to leave this building with a win. The final game in the old Boston Garden was a loss to the Magic and I have often thought that it would have been nicer to leave the old building with a win. I’m sure that is on their minds as they play Game 6 in the final season in this building.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Probable Bucks Starters
John Henson (back) doubtful
Semi Ojeleye vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
Once again, as in the first 4 games the matchup with Antetokounmpo is key. So far in the series, he is averaging 25.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.0 assists. He is shooting 60.5% from the field and 37.5% on 3 pointers. Semi held him to 16 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists in game 5 and hopefully can keep him off his game in this one as well.
Jayson Tatum vs Khris Middleton
Middleton has come up big for the Bucks in all 4 games so far. He is averaging 25 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. He is shooting 57% from the field and a ridiculous 60% from beyond the arc. He is averaging 1.238 points per possession, which is the most for any player with 100 possessions or more. It goes without saying that the Celtics need to do a better job defending Middleton and if they do, they give themselves a better chance to win the game. I would expect to see Marcus Smart on Middleton if Tatum continues to struggle to defend him.
Terry Rozier vs Eric Bledsoe
This has been a testy matchup from the beginning. Rozier has out-played Bledsoe in the first four games which has gotten into Bledsoe’s head a bit, causing him to pick up a flagrant foul in game 5. Rozier is averaging 16.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists while Bledsoe is averaging 12.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Terry needs to once again come up big against Bledsoe for the Celtics to get a win.
Celtics Bench vs Bucks Bench
In the Celtics 3 wins, the Celtics reserves averaged 31.6 points to 26 points for the Bucks reserves. In the Celtics 2 losses, their reserves averaged just 22.5 points to 39.5 points from the Bucks reserves. They played well at home and didn’t show up on the road. The Celtics are once again on the road and they will need their reserves to play much better in this game than they did in the first 2 games in Milwaukee if they want to win this game. Having Marcus Smart back should help.
Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics led the league in defensive rating for the entire regular season but in the first 4 games, that defense was nowhere to be found. They allowed the Bucks to shoot 54% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc in those first 4 games. We finally saw the Celtics defense we came to love in the regular season in Game 5 where the Celtics limited the Bucks to 36.8% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the arc. Whether it was the return of Marcus Smart, or Semi Ojeleye starting, or some other adjustment that Brad made, hopefully they keep it up in this game. In 3 games in Boston, the Celtics have a 99.7 defensive rating but in 2 games in Milwaukee, they have a 122.8 defensive rating, which is the worst of any team in the playoffs. It is no surprise that they won the games with a solid defensive effort and lost the ones where their defense was bad. They have to play tough defense.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding is a big key to winning. So far, the Celtics have done a good job on the boards. The Celtics are averaging 44.2 rebounds for the series, compared to 38.0 for the Bucks. 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 must continue to crash the glass as a team and give even more effort on the boards.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the team that wants the game more. They have to be aggressive in going after loose balls and on defense and going to the basket and grabbing rebounds. The Celtics were the more aggressive team in Games 1 and 2 but the Bucks were the more aggressive team in Games 3 and 4. The Celtics were once again more aggressive in Game 5. They have to keep that aggressive mindset on the road and not let the Bucks outplay them.
Play Team Ball - When the Celtics move the ball and find the open man, they are tough to beat. The Celtics had just 17 assists in Game 3 to 28 for the Bucks. The Bucks are averaging 22.8 assists per game vs 21.0 assists for the Celtics. The Celtics need to move the ball and trust each other and not lapse into hero ball. They have to play unselfish Celtics team basketball.
Limit Turnovers - After turning the ball over 15 times to 20 for the Bucks in Game 1, and having 5 turnovers to 15 for the Bucks in Game 2, the Celtics had 16 turnovers to 9 for the Bucks in Game 3. In Game 4, the Celtics had just 8 turnovers to 9 for the Bucks. And, in Game 5, the Celtics had 17 turnovers to 11 for the Bucks. Turnovers were one of the reasons for the game being much closer than it should have been. The Celtics need to take better care of the ball if they want to win on the road.
Play 48 Minutes - In the two games in Milwaukee, especially in Game 4, the Celtics played well during stretches but they also had a time in the second quarter when they played very poorly on both ends of the court. The Celtics can’t afford to have a let down during games in the playoffs. 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.
The team that has been ahead at the end of the first quarter has won each of the five games so far. It is important to get off to a good start and finish the first quarter strong. It is also important to avoid the 2nd quarter let down and to keep playing hard right through the end of the game.
Coaching - So far, through the first 5 games this series has been a chess match with each coach making adjustments between games. Both have changed starters and have adjusted their rotations. Brad inserted Semi Ojeleye in the starting lineup and it definitely gave the Celtics an advantage. Brad needs to have the Celtics playing their hardest and continue to make adjustments to counter those made by the Bucks.
On the Road - The Celtics were a good road team this season with a 23-18 record away from home. The Bucks were also pretty good at home with a 25-16 home record. In Games 3 and 4 in Milwaukee, the Celtics couldn’t seem to get going on offense and definitely not on defense. They need to stay focused on playing their game and not let the hostile environment distract them. The Bucks’ young players play much better at home and so the Celtics need to be ready for them with tougher defense.
Marcus Smart - Smart made a surprise return to the court in Game 5 and immediately made a difference. He dove on the floor for loose balls, blocked shots, got in the passing lanes, played tough defense and generally just did a little bit of everything. The play where he was on the floor with 3 Bucks on top of him and he somehow got the ball to Al Horford for an easy layup was probably one of the most Marcus Smart plays I’ve ever seen. He is always an X-Factor for the Celtics when he is on the court and Brad Stevens has said that he can play up to 35 minutes in this game, which is good news for the Celtics.
Close Out Game - Close out games are always the toughest to win. The opponent is always fired up and very motivated to stay alive in the series. The Bucks will be under the most pressure because they know if they lose, that’s it for their playoff run. Hopefully the Celtics are just as motivated to get a win and not relax because they know they have another chance at home in Game 7. The Celtics need to give it their all to close out this game now because Philly is sitting at home waiting for one of these teams to advance.
Officiating - Officiating is always an X-Factor. Games 1, 2 and 3 were officiated fairly well without a lot of controversy. However, Games 4 and 5 ended up with some very controversial calls and non calls down the stretch. I know that refs are human and can’t see everything, but sometimes it seems like they are officiating with an agenda. Hopefully they call this game evenly and let both teams play.
Lead official Mike Callahan can be good or he can be very, very bad. He usually lets the teams play and isn’t a tyrant with the whistle but still makes some head scratching calls from time to time. His home team win percentage is 54% and he 50.6% of his calls are against the road team. The Celtics are 9-1 this in their last 10 games with Callahan as a referee. All in all, he’s one of the better refs. Tony Brothers, on the other hand, is a name that strikes fear and loathing in pretty much every fan base. He has been good in some games with the Celtics and awful in others. His home win % is 56% and he 50.6% of his calls are against the road team. The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games with Brothers as a ref. He is very unpredictable and can be good or absolutely terrible.