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Three things to watch for: Celtics-Bucks

Stars are missing on both sides as Boston hosts Milwaukee with a .500 record on the line

Eastern Conference Semifinals - Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics are looking to get to .500 on the season when they host the “Milwaukee Bucks”. Why the quotations? The Bucks are both banged up and missing players due to COVID. Milwaukee will be without notorious Celtics-killer Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Donte DiVincenzo. Giannis Antetokounmpo is expected to play, but he’s dealing with a sprained ankle. It’s fair to point out here that on the Boston side, they’ll be without Jaylen Brown.

This won’t be the star-studded matchup we hoped for, but it’s still a big test for the Celtics. Even a limited Antetokounmpo is a handful, and the Bucks still have pretty good talent around him too. Here’s what we’re watching for on Friday night:

1. Who guards Giannis? Boston will like stay with their current regular lineup, which will put Al Horford on Antetokounmpo to open the game. In the past, Horford has done as good as one player can possibly do while guarding one of the NBA’s best players. Boston is still switching a lot, but it’s based on opponent and circumstance now vs. being a “switch everything” approach. Look for Horford to get the bulk of the minutes against Antetokounmpo, as the Celtics may play things more straight up than usual.

When Horford needs a break, Robert Williams and Grant Williams will probably get the call. It’s also possible that Boston will put a smaller defender like Marcus Smart or Josh Richardson on Antetokounmpo. That’s risky, but sometimes smaller players have been able to disrupt his dribble.

2. Guarding the arc: The Bucks are one of the NBA’s best three-point shooting teams so far. They are fourth in attempts per game, third in made threes per game and ninth in percentage. The Celtics are middle-of-the-pack in takes and makes allowed per game, but have gotten up to eighth in terms of opponent three-point percentage.

Milwaukee has gotten a lot of mileage out of lineups with Giannis Antetokounmpo surrounded by four shooters. Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, George Hill and Jrue Holiday are all hitting between 38 and 44% from behind the arc.

3. Attacking the rim: Brook Lopez has become one of the NBA’s best rim-protectors, but he’s not going to play. While Giannis Antetokounmpo is a terrific help-defender, Lopez being out leaves the basket open for rim runs.

As they did against Toronto, look for Boston to get some work done in the paint. Al Horford should have a nice matchup to attack for large portions of the game, while Robert Williams can do his thing as a vertical spacer. Jayson Tatum hasn’t finished well, but he’s done a good job getting to the rim. And Dennis Schroder has excelled at breaking down a defense for layups or floaters in the lane.

Against the Raptors, the Celtics also did a good job of getting into the paint off the dribble. That allowed for Boston to open up their drive-and-kick game, as well as finding cutters when the ballhandler drew the defense. Again, without Lopez packing the paint, this should be an area of attack for the Celtics.