With the series tied at 2 games a piece, the series now shifts back to Boston for Game #5. The Celtics are coming off a big win in Milwaukee in Game 4. Al Horford led the way with a career high 30 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block. The Bucks led by as many as 11 points in the third quarter and by 7 points to begin the 4th quarter. The Celtics, behind Horford’s heroics and a bounce back 30 point, 13 rebound and 5 assist game from Jayson Tatum, surged ahead to win the game 116-108 and reclaim home court advantage.
The series has gone back and forth so far, with no team winning two games in a row. The Bucks won the first game convincingly 101-89 in Boston to steal home court from the Celtics. The Celtics defense was good, but their offense was way off, shooting just 29.4% on two pointers and 36% on threes but shot 50 threes for the game. They also allowed the Bucks to get 27 points off of 18 Celtics turnovers in the game.
The Celtics returned the favor in the second game, beating the Bucks 109-86 also at Boston. The Celtics defense was excellent in this game, holding the Bucks to just 86 points and limiting the production from Milwaukee’s players other than Giannis. The biggest change in this game was that their offense was much better. They shot 46.5% from beyond the arc and 47.5% from the field. The Celtics led by as many as 26 points and they never trailed in the game. The Celtics’ 20 three pointers were the most in franchise playoffs history.
The Bucks won Game 3 103-101 behind 42 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo and 25 points from Jrue Holiday. Once again, the Celtics struggled on the offensive end. They shot just 36.8% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the arc. Jayson Tatum scored just 10 points and struggled throughout the game. The Celtics reverted to some old bad habits in the 3rd quarter, losing composure, taking quick shots and missing defensive assignments and scoring just 17 points in the quarter and falling behind by as many as 14 points. They fought back in the 4th quarter and came close to getting a win but fell just short after some questionable calls down the stretch.
Game 4 was a must win game for the Celtics because teams that go up 3-1 in a 7 game series go on to win the series 95.4% of the time. It gives the team that is up 3-1 three chances to close out the series where the team that is down has no room for error. Game 5 is also very important. The team that wins Game 5 goes on to win the series 82.8% of the time. It gives that team 2 tries to close out the series with one game home and one on the road. The Celtics need to protect home court and get this win.
Robert Williams was a last minute scratch for Game 4 with soreness in his surgically repaired knee. At the time Ime Udoka said that it wasn’t a setback but just some soreness that was to be expected. Williams is listed as questionable but there’s a good chance that he plays in this one. Wishful thinking has him included in the starting lineup for this game. If he is once again unable to play, Grant Williams will likely get the start in his place.
Sam Hauser remains out with shoulder instability. Marcus Smart (quad), Jaylen Brown (hamstring) and Jayson Tatum (wrist) are expected to continue to play through injuries. For the Bucks, Khris Middleton has been ruled out for this game but they are not ruling him out for Game 6 as of now. George Hill is listed as probable after missing over a month with an abdominal injury and returning for the last 2 games.
Probable Celtics Starters
Sam Hauser (shoulder) out
Robert Williams III (knee) questionable
Probable Bucks Starters
Bobby Portis, Jr
Khris Middleton (knee) out
George Hill (abdomen) probable
Al Horford vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
Once again, the matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo is the key matchup. In Game 1 vs Boston he had 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists. He did have to work for his points, however and shot just 9-25 from the field and 0-2 from beyond the arc. He also turned the ball over 5 times. However, he had 12 assists that resulted in 31 more points for the Bucks. In Game 2, he had 28 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists, holding him to 11-27 shooting. He erupted for 42 points in Game 3 and also had 12 rebounds and 8 assists. Many of Giannis’ easy baskets were when he sought out Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum in switches. In Game 4, he had 34 points but had to shoot 32 times to get them. He also had 18 rebounds and 5 assists. The Celtics need to limit switching Brown and Tatum on him on defense. Grant Williams and Al Horford should see the most time guarding him. In Game 4, with Grant struggling, Marcus Smart got the task of guarding him and held him to just 6 points in the final quarter.
Marcus Smart vs Jrue Holiday
Holiday had 25 points (8-20), 10 rebounds, and 5 assists in Game 1 and followed that with 19 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists in Game 2. In Game 3 he had 25 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. In Game 4, he was limited to 16 points on 22 shots. The Celtics need to play Holiday tightly on defense to limit his production since he is the biggest threat other than Antetokounmpo. Marcus Smart played well on both ends of the court in Game 4 and the Celtics will need more of the same from him in this game.
Robert Williams (or Grant Williams) vs Brook Lopez
The Bucks had some success going inside to Brook Lopez in Game 4 since Robert Williams wasn’t there to defend the paint. Lopez finished with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 1 block. They went away from Lopez when Udoka went to a 3 guard lineup in the 4th quarter and the Bucks had to go small to match up better. If Timelord is back, things will be a bit harder for Lopez in this one. If they keep going to Lopez inside, then this matchup becomes more important.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the biggest key to winning, and especially more so in the playoffs and in this series. Defense really does win championships. So far, this series has been a defensive battle and the series will be won on the defensive end. The Celtics must work harder than the Bucks on defense and keep their focus on the defensive end so as not to allow any easy baskets for the Bucks. They especially need to keep the Bucks from getting out in transition as they struggle to find their offense in the half court. The Bucks had 28 and 21 fast break points in their wins but just 6 and 13 fast break points in their losses.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding is always a big key to winning. The key to rebounding is effort and focus. When the Celtics increase their rebounding effort, it usually improves their play in other areas as well. The Bucks out-rebounded the Celtics 66-54 in Game 1 and 53-47 in Game 3. The Celtics out-rebounded the Bucks 40-37 in Game 2. In each game, the team that had the most rebounds win the game. In Game 4, the Bucks out-rebounded the Celtics 48-38, but in the 4th quarter where the Celtics took control, the Celtics out rebounded the Bucks 8-5. The Celtics must out work the Bucks on the boards if they hope to get a win in this one.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics must take care of the basketball. The Bucks are averaging 18 points per game off of turnovers. The Celtics must focus on their passing and not make lazy or sloppy passes to allow the Bucks to get out in transition. They have to focus on handling the ball and not over dribbling or making unforced turnovers. The Bucks are very good at scoring in transition but have struggled with their half court offense. If the Celtics limit turnovers, it will help to limit the Bucks scoring opportunities.
Remember What Works - The Celtics need to study Game 2 and study the 4th quarter of Game 4 and realize what works and what doesn’t. They need to remember that crashing the boards, playing with effort and heart, moving the ball, pushing the pace, and trusting each other are what has gotten them wins. On the other hand, iso play and hero ball and a lack of composure is what has gotten them losses. They need to stay focused, keep their composure and not allow officiating to rattle them. They need to play as a team and move the ball. They need to work harder than the Bucks on defense and on rebounding.
No Let Up - The Celtics have to come out strong. They have to have maximum effort and focus right from the opening tip and they have to keep that focus and effort right up until the final buzzer. They especially need to come out after the half focused and ready to take control of the game in the third quarter. They let up in the third quarter in the last two games and ended up having to fight back from double digit deficits in both games. They can’t afford to lose focus and let up for any length of time in the game.
Home Court - The Celtics played hard to finish the season to claim home court in the first and second rounds. They lost home court when the Bucks won Game 1 but they reclaimed it when they won Game 4 on the Bucks court. They need to make home court work for them. They should get a boost from a very rowdy and supportive home crowd. Hopefully, the Bucks will struggle with the distractions of travel, playing in an unfamiliar arena and in front of a hostile crowd. Protect home court.
Coaching - Ime made the right adjustments from Game 1 to Game 2. Budenholzer made the adjustments from Game 2 to Game 3. Ime once again made adjustments in Game 4 that helped the Celtics to get the win down the stretch. There will once again be adjustments on both sides going into this game. Can Ime make the adjustments that will give the Celtics two straight wins? Will Budenholzer make the moves that will give the Bucks the advantage?
Officiating - The officiating can always be an x-factor and maybe more so in the playoffs than in the regular season. Some referees call the game tight and others let them play. Some favor the home team and others call it evenly. Some refs just seem to have an agenda that doesn’t fit the play on the court. And sometimes, like in Game 3, the refs are simply atrocious. Giannis seems to always get more than his share of calls as he plows through players on his way to the hoop, leaving bodies in his wake. He shot 43 free throws through 4 games, more than any player on either team. The Celtics have to play through however the refs call the game, whether it is tight or they let them play or they make terrible calls. The Celtics can’t allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on the game.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are 5.5-point favorites hosting the Bucks for Game 5. As of this writing, Boston has not made an announcement on Robert Williams’ availability for tonight, but even if Time Lord can play, it’s questionable how much he’ll even see the floor. In the Game 4 comeback, head coach Ime Udoka might have discovered a serendipitous lineup adjustment that helped fuel Boston’s furious 4th quarter. With small ball fivesomes that featured Al Horford at the 5 and Jayson Tatum at the 4, the Celtics were able to ratchet up their ball movement and generate quality three-point shots; Boston shot a blistering 16-for-19 in the quarter, including 4-of-5 from behind the arc with nine assists.
As many have noted, the three-point shooting difference will again be a key indicator, but it may not be so tied to shooting percentages. In Games 2 and 4, the Celtics were able to limit the Bucks to under 30 three-point attempts and those games resulted in Boston wins. If they can again manage to single cover Giannis Antetokounmpo with Al Horford and Grant Williams and stay home on Milwaukee’s perimeter players, taking away one of the Bucks’ main source of points in the halfcourt will hopefully again tilt the series in the Celtics’ favor.
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.
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