Since getting routed in Boston less than two weeks ago, the Bucks have gone 3-2 in large part due to Giannis Antetokounmpo entering the league’s health and safety protocols immediately after that loss. They’ve also weathered absences by Khris Middleton (hyperextended knee suffered in the December 13th game) and Jrue Holiday (rest) with strong play from newly-added DeMarcus Cousins and second-year sophomore Jordan Nwora who has averaged 16 points and nine rebounds over those five starts.
The Celtics are also dealing with COVID-related absences and quarantines, but despite missing key members to Boston’s front court (Al Horford and Grant Williams), they’ve split four games in their last homestand against some of the NBA’s best teams. Because of all the players in the protocol, the circumstances have created opportunities for some of the roster’s backend rotation players like Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard. The latter has really come on over the last three games, hitting 7-of-15 from behind the arc and playing over twenty minutes a night for the first time all year.
Probable Starters & Rotation
Key Matchups & Keys to the Game
Marcus Smart vs. Jrue Holiday: On this Christmas Day matchup, all eyes will be on Tatum and Middleton to fill their stockings, but if you’re more in to either defense delivering a lump of coal to their opponent, focus on the point guard battle. With Smart on the floor, Holiday is shooting an anemic 33.3% from the field in both Bucks’ losses in Boston.
Role player revival: Without key reserves like Josh Richardson and Grant Williams, head coach Ime Udoka has had to rely on young players to fulfill significant roles in the rotation. Romeo Langford should slot in as the starting small forward next to Tatum and Brown on the wings and Payton Pritchard will play heavy minutes as the back up point guard and floor-spacing shooting guard off the bench.
Three-point shooting: Mike Budenholzer again has the Bucks as one of the league’s most prolific three-point shooting teams. Milwaukee is 4th in attempts (39.6 3FGA’s per game) and 11th in 3FG% (35.7%). In Boston’s two wins against them, they’ve been able to win two different ways: withstanding an onslaught of triples and outshooting them from behind the arc. Over the last five games, the Celtics have held their opponents to 32.6% on threes and if that strong perimeter defense continues, they’ll have a shot to pull off the Christmas Day upset.
The odds aren’t exactly in Boston’s favor heading into Saturday. With Antetokounmpo set to return from the league’s health and safety protocols and the Celtics with eight players out and in quarantine, four questionable to return from the protocols, and Marcus Smart and Romeo Langford questionable with nagging injuries, the Bucks are poised to win their first game against the Celtics this season in front of their home crowd.
However, the Celtics will still have Jayson Tatum, the current Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and Jaylen Brown who has quietly averaged 25.2 points on 45.7% shooting (43.5% from behind the arc) over the last five games in his return. On Wednesday night, Robert Williams had his most complete game of the year with 21 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and a pair of blocks and steals against the Cavaliers. Boston is certainly hobbled, but playing good ball as of late. If Al Horford returns and if Smart can play despite a left hip contusion, put this writer down for a Christmas miracle, Celtics 102, Bucks 95.
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