The Celtics travel to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks for the 2nd of 3 games this season. The first game was opening night in Boston and the Celtics won 122-121 on a Jayson Tatum game winner with 0.4 left in the game. Antetokounmpo missed a tip in on the inbound to end the game but was fouled and made one free throw but missed the second to tie the game and the Celtics escaped with a 1 point win. They will play one more time on Friday in Milwaukee.
The Celtics have now slipped to eighth in the East. They are 9.5 behind the first place 76ers. They arehalf a game behind 5th place Charlotte, 6th place Miami and the 7th place Knicks. They are 1 game behind 4th place Atlanta. The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 8-15 on the road.
The Bucks are 3rd in the East, 2 games behind first place Philadelphia and one game behind 2nd place Brooklyn. They are 6.5 games ahead of the 4th place Atlanta Hawks. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games and 17-5 at home. They are on a 7 game winning streak.
The Bucks have used just 6 different starting lineups on the season and have been fairly fortunate as far as major injuries are concerned. The Celtics, on the other hand have used 19 different lineups for the season. Their best lineup of Walker, Smart, Brown, Tatum and Theis has started just 2 games together.
Jayson Tatum was a late scratch for Monday’s game due to illness and is a game time decision for this game. If he can’t play, Semi Ojeleye may get the start once again. I’m hoping he can return to the lineup for this one. Romeo Langford and Tristan Thompson both remain out due to the league’s health and safety protocols.
For the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo missed Monday’s game with a knee sprain but practiced on Tuesday. He is listed as a game time decision but I’m thinking he’ll likely be back. If he doesn’t play, Pat Connaughton is likely to start once again. Bryn Forbes (toe) is questionable and Rodion Kurucs (oblique) and Axel Toupane (NWT) are out. PJ Tucker (ankle) is probable.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (covid) out
Tristan Thompson (covid) out
Jayson Tatum (illness) game time decision
Probable Bucks Starters
Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) game time decision
Bryn Forbes (toe) questionable
Rodion Kurucs (oblique) out
Axel Toupane (NWT) out
PJ Tucker (ankle) probable
Jayson Tatum vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
Both of these players are considered a game time decision for this game so it may end up being not so big a matchup. If both plays, this is definitely the key matchup for the game. Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. He is shooting 56% from the field but just 30% from beyond the arc. Slowing him down is key to getting a win.
Jaylen Brown vs Khris Middleton
Khris Middleton always seems to have a big game against the Celtics. He is averaging 20.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists. He is shooting 49% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc. He had 27 points and 14 rebounds in the first game between these teams. Brown needs to stay with him both in the paint and on the perimeter.
Kemba Walker vs Jrue Holiday
Holiday gives the Bucks another threat to score and he had a big game against the Celtics in their first meeting with 25 points and 6 rebounds. He is averaging 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists. He is shooting 49% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc. The Celtics also need Kemba to have a good offensive game in this one.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins championships and defense wins games. The Celtics are 22nd in the league with a defensive rating of 112.4 while the Bucks are eighth with a defensive rating of 109.2. The Bucks are shooting 48.7% from the field and 39.1% from beyond the arc, while the Celtics are shooting 46.9% from the field and 37.6% 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 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 43.9 rebounds per game while the Bucks are first in the league with 48.6 rebounds per game. The Celtics must increase their effort to crash the glass as a team and beat the Bucks to rebounds. They were out-rebounded 52-37 in their first game against the Bucks and need to pick up their effort and do better in 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 play hero ball, it usually ends badly. The Bucks move the ball very well and average 26.2 assists per game. The Celtics average just 22.9 assist. They have to play team ball and trust each other and make the extra pass to find the open man. Their improved play in their last 2 games has been the result of better ball movement and hopefully they can continue to improve in that area.
Play Hard 48 Minutes - The Celtics need consistent effort from start to finish. They have to come out strong and not dig themselves a hole that they have to work the rest of the game to try to get out of. They also have to play hard even if they get a lead and not let up. In the first game against the Bucks, the Celtics entered the 4th quarter with a 17 point lead and ended up winning by one thanks to a Tatum game winner and a missed free throw by Antetokounmpo. They have to play hard for all 48 minutes.
Fatigue - The Celtics are playing their second straight road game and their 3rd game in 4 nights. They have had to play short handed more often than not this season and so players may be fatigued. Will they have enough to stay with the Bucks for 48 minutes or will they run out of steam down the stretch?
Revenge - For all their success this season, the Bucks haven’t been able to get a win over the Celtics. I am sure they remember the 122-121 loss the Celtics handed them in Boston in the season opener and will be motivated to play extra hard to beat them in this one. If Antetokounmpo plays, he will be especially motivated by that missed free throw and what might have been if he had hit it.
Officiating - 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. Some favor the home team while others do not. The Celtics have to adjust to how this game is being called by the crew and not allow officiating to take away their focus.