Before the game tonight, check out the amazing in-depth series preview coverage we have at the site with articles by:
Now on to the Game 1 Preview.
It has been a full week since the Celtics have lasted played. The league and Eastern Conference needed to sort itself out before the next round was able to start. It took awhile, but the Celtics are finally back in action against very stout competition in the Milwaukee Bucks.
It is going to be a battle of wills and styles in this game and overall series at large. The Bucks currently rank second in offensive rating for the playoffs after their easy sweep of the Detroit Pistons. That doesn’t stray far from their same production during the regular season where they finished fourth overall in offensive rating. Contrast this with the Celtics. They are first in defensive rating in the playoffs and finished the season with the seventh rated defense. This has much to do with their opponent the first round, but nonetheless, the Celtics have always focused on a defense-first approach. This will be on test here in this series.
For the first game in any playoff series, especially between two teams who match up well against each other, it will be a feeling out process for most of the game. Each team knows it is like a boxing match where they will have a game plan set out pregame, but that it can all change in an instant depending on the style brought in by the opposing side. Even with the Celtics struggling this season, both of these teams know that this is will be a long match-up going further than their respective first series sweeps. Coach Stevens and Coach Budenholzer will have a fascinating contest trading stylistic blows back and forth in this first game.
The Bucks took the season series from the Celtics 2-1. It was an interesting outcome throughout this season series as the road team won each of the three games. Both teams matched up well against each other having two of the three games come down to the final minute of play. Because of different players being out on both teams, it is hard to take exact takeaways from these three games, but the fact still stands that these two teams pair up nicely against one another. Both teams will be leaving it all on the court.
There will be two specific match-ups to watch for in Game 1 that may be a precursor for the series at large. The first is the Celtics with Al Horford or whoever else they throw at him vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo. As mentioned above, Keith Smith does a fantastic job with his article breaking down this match-up of how the Celtics will try and stop Antetokounmpo. This task is almost impossible because of the dominance he shows on the court, so it will be more important to find a way to limit him as much as possible instead of actually “stopping” him.
He averaged 31.0 a game against the Celtics during the regular season. With that kind of production, it gives the Celtics’ defense zero margin of error for the rest of that roster production outside of the norm. If anyone else goes off, it may be a Celtics loss. Horford and whoever else will have to do as much as possible to keep Antetokounmpo off balance and try to not let him get a full head of steam going downhill towards the rim. If they can pack the paint and turn him into a jump shooter, it could be enough deterrence from him scoring big numbers. In Game 1, this will be the most interesting battle on the floor.
The other match-up that will play a huge role in the outcome of this series is Kyrie Irving vs. Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe has always been the gritty, tough-nosed guy who has had a spot in this league, however, this year, he has brought his defense to another level. This will not be the same Eric Bledsoe who crumbled last year under the scrutiny of the Boston faithful. This season, he has been playing more in his game (still averaged 16.9 points and 5.5 assists) and giving it all on the defensive end guarding the other team’s best scorer. For this series, that will be Kyrie Irving.
In the three games against the Bucks, Kyrie averaged 21.8 points per game. This is down a bit from his 23.8 season average. While it isn’t a huge decrease, Eric Bledsoe still guarded him straight up in all of those games. He made it challenging on Kyrie to find any daylight to score consistently. It will be a huge contrast to last series with Kyrie being able to find any shot he wanted on the court. If Kyrie can continue his rhythm from last series, it will be a huge offensive boost the Celtics will have to have to compete in this series.
The injury report for both teams looks pretty clean for the impact players in this series. The biggest question marks going forward will be the statuses of Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon. These are two huge contributors for both teams. Smart and Brogdon are not ruled out for the series (Brogdon ruled out of the first two games), so it will be something to keep track of if these two will be able to play at all.
Bottom line for the Celtics in this Game 1 is to feel out how to defend Giannis Antetokounmpo. Obviously, it has been, and will continue to be, the leagues biggest mystery, but it will be critical in this series. Slow him down to around 15-20 points a game and make another player beat you. This combined with the Irving vs. Bledsoe match-up will be what to watch for in this first game. The Celtics can win this series, they just need to execute to perfection.
PG – Kyrie Irving – Eric Bledsoe
SG – Jaylen Brown – Sterling Brown
SF – Jayson Tatum – Khris Middleton
PF – Al Horford – Giannis Antetokounmpo
C – Aron Baynes – Brook Lopez
Boston – Marcus Smart (Oblique); Guerschon Yabusele (Back)
Milwaukee- Malcolm Brogdon (Heel); Donte DiVincenzo (Heel); Pau Gasol (Ankle)
How To Watch
Time- 1:00 EST
TV– ABC / NBC Sports Boston