This is the second of 3 matchups this season. The Celtics won the first game 116-105 on October 30 in Boston. They will meet again on March 12 also in Milwaukee. The Bucks won the series 2-1 last season and they also knocked the Celtics out of the second round of the playoffs 4 games to 1. The Celtics lead the series all time 110-104.
The Bucks lead the Eastern Conference with the Celtics 7.5 games behind them in 2nd place. The Celtics are tied with the Heat, who are in 3rd place. The Celtics are 11-8 on the road while the Bucks are 10-2 at home. The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games while the Bucks are 9-1 in their last 10. The Bucks have won their last 4 games. The Celtics had their 3 game win streak stopped by their loss to the Pistons. The Bucks are winless against their top 3 Eastern Conference foes (Boston, Philadelphia and Miami). They will definitely be motivated to get this win against Boston.
The Celtics are playing in the second of back to back games, having played the Pistons at home on Wednesday and then having to travel to Milwaukee after the game. The Celtics are 3-3 on the second night of back to back games. They are 2-1 when the games are home/road. The Bucks last played on Tuesday night when they beat the Knicks at home.
Jayson Tatum missed Wednesday’s game with knee soreness but is expected to be back in the starting lineup for this one. Jaylen Brown sprained the thumb on his shooting hand in the game against the Pistons. He is listed as questionable and will be a game time decision. If he can’t play, expect Marcus Smart to start in his place. Robert Williams is still out with bone edema in his hip. Carsen Edwards is on assignment with the Maine Red Claws. The Bucks list Wesley Mathews and Donte Divencenzo both probable with finger injuries.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III (hip) out
Jaylen Brown (thumb) questionable
Carsen Edwards (g-league assignment) out
Two Way Players
Probable Bucks Starters
Wesley Matthews (finger) probable
Donte Divencenzo (finger) probable
Two Way Players
Jayson Tatum vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
This is definitely the key matchup. Giannis is averaging 29.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. He is shooting 55.0% from the field and 35.5% from beyond the arc. One player won’t be able to slow Antetokounmpo down so we should see some double teams. Also, in the past, Marcus Smart and Semi Ojeleye have both had some success in guarding him. Tatum didn’t play in Wednesday’s game and so should be rested. Hopefully he will have a big game.
Gordon Hayward vs Khris Middleton
Middleton is a star and can score in bunches if not defended well. He is averaging 19.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists. He is shooting 48.5% from the field and 40.3% from beyond the arc. Hayward will need to stick with him both inside and out. Middleton led the Bucks in the first game this year with 26 points.
Kemba Walker vs Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe is averaging 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. Bledsoe is shooting 48.6% from the field and 35.5% from beyond the arc. He is a good defender, however and so it may be hard for Kemba to get his shot off in this one.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins championships and defense wins games. The Celtics are 4th in the league with a defensive rating of 104.6 while the Bucks are first with a defensive rating of 101.4. The Bucks are shooting 48% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc, while the Celtics are shooting just 46% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. The Celtics must play tough in your face defense, especially on the perimeter for the entire 48 minutes if they want to win. They allowed a bad team like the Pistons to shoot 60.3% and if they play like that against the Bucks, they may get beat by 50. They won’t win a shoot out with the Bucks and so have to increase their defensive intensity.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding is a key to winning. Much of rebounding is effort and desire and when the Celtics put out the extra effort on the boards, it usually carries through to the rest of their game. The Celtics average 45.9 rebounds per game while the Bucks average 51.6 rebounds per game. The Celtics must increase their effort to crash the glass as a team and beat the Bucks to rebounds.
Effort and Focus - The Celtics came out flat against a bad Pistons team and didn’t seem focused and didn’t put out the effort needed to get a win. The Celtics must come out focused against the Bucks and have to play hard. Anything less than maximum effort and the Celtics will have a 2 game losing streak. They can’t start slow and allow the Bucks to get a lead because it will be very hard to come back against the Bucks tough defense. They also can’t let up at any point. They have to stay focused and put out maximum effort for 48 minutes.
Move the Ball - When the Celtics move the ball and find the open man, they are tough to beat. When the Celtics dribble too much and play hero ball, it usually ends badly. They have to play team ball and trust each other and make the extra pass to find the open man. They also have to focus on making crisp passes and not get sloppy or the Bucks will make them pay.
Officiating - The style of officiating can affect the outcome of a game. They don’t even have to favor one team over the other. When officials call every little bit of contact, the Celtics seem to struggle. When the refs let them play, the Celtics play much better. They also can’t let bad calls and no calls take their focus off of playing Celtics basketball. Hopefully the refs call it fairly and let both teams play.
On the Road - The Celtics will once again be on the road after a 3 game home stand. The Bucks have been a very good home team this season, losing just 2 games at home so far. The Celtics must block out the distractions of playing on the road and focus on playing the right way.
Revenge - For all their success this season, the Bucks haven’t been able to get a win over the Celtics, the Heat or the 76ers as yet. I am sure they remember the 116-105 loss the Celtics handed them in Boston and will be motivated to play extra hard to beat them in this one.