Which players are the biggest X-Factors in this series?
I’ll throw out an interesting X-factor... or, really, three. Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams and Derrick White need to have efficient shooting performances and have no games where they go absent from deep. Milwaukee can really score it and will outpace many of their opponents with tremendous spacing and 3-pointers. The C’s need both volume and efficiency from deep, and positive performances off the bench from role-playing shooters help them get there
Boston’s help defense has been their best defense, and so I think Derrick White is the x factor to help with Giannis. He’s already the team’s best transition defender, and I think those skills transfer to stopping drives. He’ll also know when to step in and take charges. For the Bucks, I’m looking at Brook Lopez. In their last playoff matchup, the Celtics tried to score in isolation on Lopez to absolutely no avail, and while a near-infinite number of things have changed since then, each team has a similar core as before.
Robert Williams has to be answer for the Celtics, right? If he looks like himself, the Celtics are extremely tough to beat. Even at 70-80 percent, he’s still someone teams have to constantly worry about. The added rest doesn’t hurt, and he can take them from great to exceptional. As for the Bucks, Brook Lopez has a chance to be a tough matchup for the Celtics. If he’s hitting 3s at a high clip, that brings the Celtics’ bigs away from the basket and gives Giannis more room to operate in the paint. The Celtics have tremendous length and size, but Lopez is so tall he can shoot over them much more easily than most.
For Milwaukee, Grayson Allen will be a big X-factor, especially following his great series against Chicago. Without Middleton, his ability to hit shots could swing a few games in either direction. Boston will need another great series from their X-factor, Grant Williams. If Grant can even play 60% of the defense he played on KD against Giannis, that will be huge for the Celtics in letting Horford, Tatum and Rob get some breaks from defending the 2-time MVP.
It’s Grant Williams. He’s going to be asked to take turns guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo on a regular basis. No one guy can really stop Giannis, so it takes a committee. Grant will be a major part of that.
On the Bucks side, I think it’s Pat Connaughton. He can’t replace the way Khris Middleton plays, but can replace some of Middleton’s production. Milwaukee will have to adjust their style of play, but Connaughton is capable of big games, if the Celtics drift off him to much with eyes on Giannis.
It appears the injured Khris Middleton will miss the entire series, but the Celtics won’t miss him. Middleton has tormented Boston ever since the seven-game playoff series in 2018, when he averaged nearly 25 points on 60% shooting, including 61% from the arc. Grayson Allen could be Milwaukee’s X-factor to fill that gap.
This season, Allen shot 40.9% from deep on 5.9 attempts per game, making himself an ideal floor-spacer for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s inside attacks. And Allen has stepped up in the three playoff games since Middleton went down, averaging 20.7 ppg on 67.6% shooting (70% on 6.7 threes per game). Those percentages are unsustainable, but the Celtics’ defense will still need to account for him.
Dating back to his years at Duke, Allen has a well-deserved reputation for delivering cheap shots. If he also succeeds Middleton as a “Celtics-killer” with a playoff series on the line, Allen will certainly become Boston’s newest sports villain.
On the Celtics’ side, the X-factor is Rob Williams, simply because he recovered from knee surgery so quickly. Rob played two games in the Nets series, and although he sometimes looked a bit lost, those minutes were crucial to regaining his regular season form. With the sweep providing additional time off for rehab and practice, Rob should be ready from the jump to go against the Bucks. The Celtics will obviously need his shot-blocking and pick-and-roll attacks against Milwaukee’s long, large front line of Giannis, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis.
My main man Grant Williams is the X-Factor for the Celtics. Not only is he going to be a crucial cog in Boston’s defensive game plan, but he’ll also be heavily relied upon to hit shots. The Bucks are a better defensive team than the Nets (not that that’s saying much, but still). When Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown inevitably draw double-teams, they’re going to depend on the role player to hit their shots. That starts and ends with Williams. Payton Pritchard, Al Horford, and even Marcus Smart will have to play this role as well, but Williams is the X-Factor. If he can shoot above 40 percent from deep this series (which has become the norm for him) while simultaneously giving Boston that extra spark, the Celtics should be in a great spot.
I’m going to jump on the Grant Williams bandwagon here. His perimeter defense has improved tremendously throughout the season, and will allow him to spend time guarding Giannis and Jrue Holiday courtesy of switches. He’s also a capable post defender, which will come in handy during scram situations on mismatches.
For me, the biggest X-factor on the Bucks is Bobby Portis. His physicality is tailor made for a series against Boston, while his floor spacing will be integral with Middleton being out. I can understand people favouring Grayson Allen here, but the Celtics are well positioned to limit him, whereas Portis will find opportunities on the glass, on the perimeter, and in pick-and-roll situations as both a roll man and a popper.
I’m following Adam S’s lead and declaring Boston’s shooters the x-factor(s) on the Celtics side. The Bucks give up oodles of above-the-break threes, a spot on the floor where Boston can go hot and cold. If the wide open corner looks the Celtics generated against Brooklyn turn into passes to open shooters further from the hoop, then Boston will need Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Grant Williams, and Derrick White to all find their strokes on a consistent basis (in addition to the assumed efficiency of its stars).
Jrue Holiday will be the x-factor for Milwaukee. He’s going to spend basically every minute he spends on the court defending one of Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown and will need to simultaneously take on the role of the Bucks best perimeter threat on offense with Khris Middleton out. That’s a massive ask, even for a player as good as Holiday is. If he can deliver Milwaukee will be in great shape.
For the Celtics, I’m going with Grant Williams. The sweep of the Brooklyn Nets was a product of terrific team defense up and down the roster, but Williams stood out as a particularly noteworthy performer due to his remarkable job frustrating Kevin Durant. Amidst all the Celtics’ customary switching, Williams now stands to see a lot of time on Giannis Antetokounmpo throughout the course of this series. Giannis is, of course, a much more physical presence than Durant and presents a different set of challenges. Can Williams hold up and add another former MVP to his list of playoff victims?
For Milwaukee, I think their biggest X-factor is actually the absence of a player: Khris Middleton remains out with the sprained MCL he suffered against Chicago and is reportedly likely to miss the entire second round. The Bucks had enough talent to overcome the loss of their co-star and beat the Bulls, but even though that series only went five games, the Bucks’ performance wasn’t incredibly impressive. This Boston defense is a different ballgame from Chicago’s leaky group, and it begs the question of how the Bucks can replace a great shot-creator like Middleton and keep their offense afloat. The pressure will be on players like Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton to step up their games.
For the Bucks, it’s tough to pick out anyone other than Grayson Allen at this point (sans Giannis, of course). He averaged 20.7 points per game over Games 3-5 of the series against the Bulls, with blistering 68-70-100 shooting splits punctuating his series box score. In Khris Middleton’s absence, an increased offensive burden will fall on his shoulders, and while he’s hardly the force that Middleton is, he can hardly be ignored.
Meanwhile, my eye will be on Jaylen Brown in this series, particularly his three-point shooting. I’ve become so confident in his ability to finish even the most contested shot at the rim at this point that it’s hardly a concern anymore. But from deep, he shot just 4-of-19 in four games against the Nets, and with the way the Bucks defend from inside-out, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to fire off an open triple. The key? Making them. This Bucks team is hardly as flimsy as the Nets were. Brown will have to step up.
I’m going to cheat a little and not name a particular player. Instead, I’ll say that the biggest X-factor for both teams is going to be shooting. Both defenses are elite at shutting off the lane to the basket. The Bucks in particular are happy to live with midrange shots and 3 pointers. I could see Derrick White feasting with his floater in this series. I could see Jaylen hitting those fadeaway jumpers off the high post that he loves. I could see Tatum cooking from the free throw line extended. And boy oh boy is there going to be a lot of corner 3’s.
Whichever team can develop a rhythm and hit a high percentage of their midrange or 3 point shots is going to have a major advantage in the series.