It felt as though a wide array of outcomes were on the table for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks, but as the dust settled on the Boston’s 112-90 drubbing of the Eastern Conference’s top seed, one thing felt clear: nobody saw that coming.
After battling through a defensive-minded first half, the Celtics buffeted the Bucks in a monstrous third quarter that included a 32-9 run to stun the NBA’s best regular season team, steal home court advantage for the remainder of the series and put the basketball landscape on notice. Kyrie Irving scored 26 points and Jaylen Brown added 19, but the true star of the night was Al Horford, who posted a masterful 20-11-3-1-3 stat line while stifling MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo on the defensive end of the floor. With their MVP candidate held in check — the Greek Freak shot just 7-of-21 — the Bucks couldn’t find a rhythm. They shot just 35% from the floor as a team and, despite a brief surge at the start of the fourth quarter, never pushed themselves back into striking distance.
Now, it’s time for the Celtics to do it again, but that’s going to prove easier said than done against a Bucks team that has lost consecutive games just once all season. For their part, the Bucks don’t sound particularly inclined to deviate from the formula that made them the NBA’s most dominant regular season team by a wide margin.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing all year,” said Antetokounmpo. “I don’t think we should change at all. Why should there be a change after a game that we lost? We should not be the team that made the adjustment.”
Added Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer: “I think when we’re us, that’s when we’re at our best. I think sometimes adjustments and all those things are actually somewhat overrated.”
On one hand, they have a point — even with Brogdon sidelined, the Bucks have too much talent to expect them to shoot so far below 40% for a second consecutive game. Even as poorly as they played in Game 1, they had a notable flash of brilliance: a 15-0 run in the second quarter that sucked the air out of the Celtics heading into the half. Defenses have been scheming for Antetokounmpo all season, as well, and he’s rarely — if ever — performed as poorly as he did in Game 1.
Still, staying the course might be a risky proposition for the Bucks here, considering that dropping a second consecutive home game could have disastrous consequences. While Antetokounmpo should certainly play better than he did in Game 1, few players in the NBA are more ideally suited to match up on him than Horford. The positive regression might not be as steep as they imagine. And, perhaps of greater concern, the Bucks’ defense looked utterly baffled by the Irving-Horford two-man game, a staple of Boston’s attack that isn’t getting taken away any time soon. There are major matchup concerns here that Milwaukee needs to figure out.
On the injury front, the situation will look more or less the same as it did in Game 1. Both teams will once again be without their crucial starting guards, as Marcus Smart has been ruled out with his oblique injury and Malcolm Brogdon has been likewise with a tear to his planar fascia. Brogdon’s replacement, shooting guard Sterling Brown, departed Game 1 early with a back injury, but is expected to return to the starting lineup tonight.
Game 2 is simply too early in a playoff series to dub “do-or-die,” but this one gets as close as any could for the Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics are very good on their home court — 28-13 during the regular season — and the Bucks were unable to steal a single game in Boston during last season’s first round matchup. If the Celtics can take a 2-0 lead in the series, their chances of advancing to a third consecutive Eastern Conference Finals will jump substantially.
PG – Kyrie Irving – Eric Bledsoe
SG – Jaylen Brown – Sterling Brown
SF – Jayson Tatum – Khris Middleton
PF – Marcus Morris – Giannis Antetokounmpo
C – Al Horford – Brook Lopez
Boston — Aron Baynes (QUESTIONABLE — Ankle); Marcus Smart (OUT — Oblique)
Milwaukee — Sterling Brown (PROBABLE — Back); Malcolm Brogdon (OUT — Foot); Donte DiVincenzo (OUT — Heel); Pau Gasol (OUT — Ankle)
How To Watch
Time — 8:00 PM EST
TV — TNT