It all comes down to this: Game 7 at the TD Garden. The Celtics and Bucks will clash one final time to determine which team will go on to face the Philadelphia 76ers, who are sitting at home waiting for the winner of this series. So far the home team has won every game in this series. Although the Celtics had to go to overtime to get a win in Game 1 and Game 4 came down to a tip in at the buzzer by Giannis, the other games weren’t all that close.
There have been 128 Game 7’s in NBA history. In those 128 games, there have been 25 road teams that have emerged victorious. In the past 6 post seasons, 5 road teams have accomplished the feat of winning Game 7 on their opponent’s court. This is the 3rd game 7 between the Celtics and the Bucks since 1974. The Celtics are 2-0 in the previous two.
Toronto has won their series 4-2 over the Wizards and the Sixers won their series 4-1 over the Heat. Since Philadelphia last played on Tuesday, April 24th, they will be well rested for whichever team emerges from this series. Indiana won Game 6 in their series so there will be a Game 7 in Cleveland also.
The Celtics are healthier than they have been in weeks with Marcus Smart back on the court for the past 2 games. Marcus Morris was kicked in the thigh in Game 6 but said that they would have to cut his leg off to keep him from playing in Game 7. Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Daniel Theis remain out. John Henson is questionable for the Bucks.
I’m thinking that Brad will stick with the starting lineup he used in Games 5 and 6 with Semi Ojeleye at power forward and Al Horford at center. Although they didn’t play all that well in Game 6, it worked for them in Game 5 at home. Joe Prunty moved Thon Maker into the starting lineup in place of Tyler Zeller and since they played well on Thursday, he will probably stick with the same lineup in this game. Though, it wouldn’t surprise me to see either coach shake up things with different starters.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Probable Bucks Starters
Bucks Reserves Tony Snell
John Henson (back) out
Semi Ojeleye vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
Once again, as in the first 5 games the matchup with Antetokounmpo is key. So far in the series, he is averaging 26.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 6.5 assists. He is shooting 59.6% from the field and 30.0% on 3 pointers. Semi held him to 16 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists in game 5 but wasn’t able to slow him down in Game 6. Hopefully Semi can keep him off his game in this one.
Jayson Tatum vs Khris Middleton
Middleton has come up big for the Bucks in all 6 games so far. He is averaging 23.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. He is shooting 59.6% from the field and a ridiculous 62.5% from beyond the arc. 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 can see Marcus Smart getting the task of guarding him if he starts to go off in this game.
Terry Rozier vs Eric Bledsoe
This has been a testy matchup from the beginning. Rozier has out-played Bledsoe in the first 6 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, 4.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists while Bledsoe is averaging 12.0 points, 3.5 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 3 losses, their reserves averaged just 23.5 points to 39.2 points from the Bucks reserves. They played well at home and didn’t show up on the road. The Celtics are once again at home. Having Marcus Smart back will help but they need more from every player that comes off the bench.
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. In Game 6, they were back to allowing the Bucks to shoot 50.7% from the field. The Celtics must play defense as they did in Game 5 in order to win this game.
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. The Celtics out-rebounded the Bucks in the first 5 games but in Game 6, The Bucks out-rebounded the Celtics 48-39. 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 get back to crashing 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 and 5 but the Bucks were the more aggressive team in Games 3 and 4 and 6. They have to keep that aggressive mindset and not let the Bucks outplay them. The Celtics have to play with energy and toughness and be more aggressive than the Bucks if they want to win this game.
Play Team Ball - When the Celtics move the ball and find the open man, they are tough to beat. 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. When they keep the ball moving, good thing 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 and keep the ball moving.
Play 48 Minutes - In the 3 games in Milwaukee, the Celtics played well during stretches but they also had times when they played very poorly on both ends of the court and couldn’t hit their shots. 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.
Play Focused Offense - The Celtics offense at times has been terrible. In Game 6, they were slow to get into their offense and were hesitant to shoot, often forcing bad shots as the shot clock expired. Their 3’s weren’t falling and they kept throwing them up which led to long rebounds and fast breaks for the Bucks. There were more air balls in Game 6 than in the first 5 games together. They also fumbled at the rim and missed quite a few bunnies. They have to be focused and take good shots. Move the ball and find the open man. They need to get into their offense quicker and if the 3’s aren’t falling, go inside more. They have to stay focused.
Coaching - So far, through the first 6 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. Prunty countered with Maker in his starting lineup. Brad needs to have the Celtics playing their hardest and continue to make adjustments to counter those made by the Bucks.
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). The Celtics will depend all 18,624 fans in the Garden crowd to be loud and give them a boost while also rattling the Bucks. So far, home court has been big for both teams and the Celtics need to come out determined to defend their home court.
Young Players - Both teams have young players that they are depending on but the Celtics more than the Bucks. The Celtics need Jayson and Jaylen to be aggressive and not tentative to shoot. They need Semi to play tough, lock down defense on Giannis. They need Rozier and Smart to be focused as they run the offense. Young players typically play better at home than on the road and so hopefully the Celtics young core come through on for the home crowd.
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 and don’t even get me started on Tony Brothers. 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.
Derrick Stafford can be a hot head and has been quick to call technicals. He has been disciplined for getting into a shouting match with former Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank. He is one of the few refs in the league who favors the road teams. Home teams win just 49% of the games he calls. The Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games with Stafford while the Bucks are 8-2 in their last 10.
John Goble has a W/L record this season of 39-25 and the Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games with him. Josh Tiven lives in Connecticut and he has a twin brother who is a big Celtics fan and who has been shown in the crowd at the Garden when Tiven was officiating. His home W/L record this season is 34-29. The Celtics are 4-6 in the last 10 games he called. Both of these refs can be good or they can be very bad. Hopefully we get the good tonight.