The Celtics get a big challenge right off the bat as they face the Milwaukee Bucks in their first game. The Bucks, led by the two-time, reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, have led the league in wins during the regular season for the past two seasons and are favored to win the East once again this season.
The Bucks lost to the Heat in the Semi-Finals last season while the Celtics lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the same Heat. The Bucks won the series 2-1 over the Celtics in the regular season last year. Both teams have made some big changes to their roster since they last met in the Bubble when the Bucks beat the Celtics 119-112.
Key losses for the Celtics were Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and Brad Wanamaker. Key gains for the Celtics are Tristan Thompson, Jeff Teague, Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard. Key losses for the Bucks are George Hill, Kyle Korver, Eric Bledsoe, Wesley Matthews, and Robin Lopez. Key additions are Jrue Holiday, DJ Augustin, and Bobby Portis.
Both teams were winless in the preseason. The Celtics played two games, losing to the 76ers and the Nets. The Bucks played 3 games, losing twice to the Mavericks and once to the Pelicans. Both teams dealt with key injuries in the preseason, which likely affected both teams’ chemistry and play in the preseason.
Tristan Thompson missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury but was left off of Tuesday’s injury list. If he plays, he will be on a minutes restriction and I would imagine that he will come off the bench. Kemba Walker (knee) and Romeo Langford (wrist) missed all of training camp and are out for this game. Tacko Fall is also out with an eye injury. Giannis Antetokounmpo (back) and DJ Augustin missed the Bucks’ 3rd preseason game and both are a game time decision for this game but will likely play.
The Celtics started Smart, Green, Brown and Tatum for both preseason games. Daniel Theis was injured for the first game but started the second. I have included the starters from their final preseason game but there probably will be some changes since the preseason didn’t go all that well. I have included the Bucks’ likely starters based on their preseason games as well.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
Two Way Players
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Kemba Walker (knee) out T
Tristan Thompson (hamstring) probable
Tacko Fall (eye) out
Probable Bucks Starters
DJ Augustin (calf) game time decision
Two Way Players
Jayson Tatum vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
This will be the key matchup to watch. Jayson Tatum is hoping to be the MVP at some time in his career and Giannis is the reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Tatum struggled in the preseason and hopefully got all of his misses out then and will shoot better in this one. Giannis is always a tough matchup and Tatum better be ready for him on both ends of the court.
Jaylen Brown vs Khris Middleton
Jaylen Brown is the other half of the Celtics’ young dynamic duo and will be matched up with Khris Middleton who is a 2-time All Star who had career highs in points (20.9), rebounds (6.2), and FG% (49.7) last season. Brown also struggled in the preseason and will need to play much better on both offense and defense for the Celtics to get a win in this one.
Marcus Smart vs Jrue Holiday
Holiday joined the Bucks in the offseason and will be an upgrade for them at the point. He averaged 19.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.6 steals last season. The Celtics will be missing Kemba Walker’s offense in this one, but Marcus Smart’s defense will hopefully help him to get the best of this matchup.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning games. The Celtics didn’t play much defense in their two preseason games and they must find their top 5 defense from last season if they hope to stay at the top of the East this season. The Celtics have good individual defenders and they must put it together to play tough lock down team defense. Getting Tristan Thompson back would be a big help and give them a rim protector that they haven’t had for awhile.
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 must crash the boards both individually and as a team if they hope to win this game.
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 when each player looks to do too much, it usually ends badly. They have to play team ball and trust each other and make the extra pass to find the open man.
Fill a Role - There has been a lot of talk about players filling their roles after the last preseason loss. Brad has talked to each player about the role he is to play and hopefully having defined roles will help them play better both as a team and individually.
Home Court - The Celtics open on their home court. It may not mean as much as it would with the fans there but they are still at home and it should give them a boost, even if it is a small boost.
Chemistry - Chemistry is very important to building a winning team. Both teams have new players and are missing familiar players from last season. Will they be able to build chemistry quickly and develop teamwork on both offense and defense? The teams that can do so will win early in the season.
Officiating - Just because it is a new season doesn’t change the fact that every officiating crew calls games differently. Some call it tight and some let them play. Some have a bias against certain teams and certain players. The Celtics have to adjust to how this game is being called by the crew.