The series shifts to Milwaukee as the Celtics face the Bucks in a must win Game 6. The Celtics are coming off a tough 110-107 loss in Game 5. The Celtics were up 14 early in the 4th quarter and then just stopped being aggressive and seemed to lose focus and allowed the Bucks to come back in the game. The Celtics then turned the ball over, failed to rebound, and failed to execute a set play out of a time out to allow the Bucks to get the win and go up 3 games to 2 and leave the Celtics on the brink of elimination.
So far in the series, these two teams have alternated wins and losses. The Bucks won Game 1 in Boston 101-89 to steal home court from the Celtics. The Celtics then returned the favor and won Game 2 on their home court 109-86. When the series shifted to Milwaukee for Game 3, the Bucks won a very close 103-101 game that was marred by some questionable calls down the stretch. In Game 4, the Celtics came back from 11 down in the 3rd quarter and 7 down entering the 4th quarter to win 116-108 behind a career game from Al Horford.
In spite of the fact that the Bucks have won one more game, the Celtics have outscored the Bucks by 4 points over the 5 games and they have an average margin of victory of 15.5 points. The Bucks won the two tightest games by 2 and 3 points. The road team has won 3 of the 5 games so far in the series with the Bucks winning 2 games in Boston and the Celtics winning 1 game in Milwaukee. The Celtics face a must win game in Milwaukee in order to keep their season alive.
In NBA history, 329 series have reached a 3-2 status. 84.2% of the teams that are up 3-2 go on to win the series. 15.8% of the teams, or 52 teams, that were down 2-3 have come back to win the series in 7 games. The Celtics only have to look to last year’s Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals for inspiration. That Bucks team came back from down 2-3 against the Nets to win the series . The 2001 Bucks also came back from down 2-3 to win the series. 5 Celtics teams have come back from down 2-3 to win the series including the ‘62, ‘68, ‘69, ‘81, and ‘88 Celtics.
To take a closer look, there have been 5 times that teams who lost Game 1 and Game 5 at home and Game 3 on the road. Only one of those 5 teams went on to win the series and that was the 2014 Indiana Pacers. The 4 others lost in 6 games. This Celtics team has been resilient in the second half of this season. Every time they were counted out, they fought back to surprise people. I’m expecting them to come out and fight back in this game as well. I’m expecting them to force a Game 7.
Robert Williams has missed the last two games for the Celtics with soreness and swelling in his surgically repaired knee. He is once again questionable for this game and his status will be a game time decision. Once again, I am thinking positively and have included him in the starting lineup. Sam Hauser is expected to be out once again with shoulder instability. For the Bucks, Khris Middleton has missed all 5 games so far, and was originally expected to miss the entire season, but the Bucks have not yet ruled him out for this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
Sam Hauser (shoulder) out
Robert Williams III (knee) questionable
Probable Bucks Starters
Bobby Portis, Jr
Khris Middleton (knee) game time decision
Al Horford vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
Once again, the matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo is the key matchup. Giannis has averaged 33.6 points, 12.6 rebounds and 7 assists per game in this series. In the first 4 games, his scoring was not efficient but in Game 5, he shot 59% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc where he has not shot well at all. The Celtics have used several players to try to defend him and they will continue to do so in this game. The Celtics have got to defend him better. Also, after Al Horford had a career game in Game 4, he only took 7 shots in Game 5. They need to keep him involved as he has been one of the Celtics best players in this series.
Marcus Smart vs Jrue Holiday
Holiday had 24 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in Game 5, shooting 37.5% from the field and 57% from beyond the arc. He had a key 3 pointer and 2 key defensive plays in the final minutes of the game. The Celtics need to play Holiday tightly on defense to limit his production since he is the biggest threat other than Antetokounmpo.
Marcus Smart has been made the scapegoat for Game 5 loss since his mistakes in the final minutes stood out, but without Smart’s play other than that minute is a big reason why the Celtics are still in this series at all. He needs to be angry about the last game and come into this game determined to play the right way on both ends of the court. He needs to keep the ball moving on offense and be the dog that we know he is on defense.
Grant Williams vs Bobby Portis
Grant started this series strong and played very well but over the last 2 games he has struggled. In Game 5, Bobby Portis had 14 points, 15 rebounds and 2 assists. Seven of those rebounds were on the offensive end, including an offensive rebound that gave the Bucks the game winning basket. On the other hand, Grant Williams had 0 points 2 rebounds and 1 assist. Even Payton Pritchard had as many rebounds as Grant did. The Celtics need Grant to play better on both ends of the court. They need him to fight for rebounds and to get back to hitting his shots.
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 from both teams 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 averaged 18.6 fast break points in their wins but just 9.5 fast break points in their losses. The Celtics can’t afford defensive lapses or missed assignments in this game. They have to defend the paint as they scored 44 points in the paint in Game 5. They also have to do a better job of defending them on the perimeter as the Bucks shot 44.8% from beyond the arc in Game 5. The Bucks have been playing very tough defense and the Celtics have to play harder than them on the defensive end if they hope to win this game.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding is always a big key to winning. Rebounding takes effort and when the Celtics put out extra effort to win the rebounding battle, that effort usually continues to other areas of the game. On the other hand, when they don’t make an extra effort on the boards as they didn’t in Game 5, it also continues to other areas of the game. In Game 5, the Bucks out rebounded the Celtics 49-36, but the biggest disparity was on the offensive end where the Bucks had 17 offensive rebounds and the Celtics had just 5. The Celtics just seemed sluggish going after the rebounds, allowing the Bucks to beat them to them time after time. The Celtics must out work the Bucks on the boards in order to win this game on the road.
Play Hard 48 Minutes - The Celtics played hard for just 3 quarters in Game 3. They allowed the Bucks to out-play them in the third quarter and that was the difference. In Game 4, they were down by 11 points and had to fight back in the 4th quarter to get the win. In Game 5, they were up 14 points and then seemed to stop being aggressive and lost focus and allowed the Bucks to come back and steal the win. The Bucks are too good for the Celtics to allow themselves to dig a hole and get behind by double digits or to let up once they get the lead. The Celtics must come out strong and take control of the game right from the opening tip and play hard right up until the final buzzer with no let up. If they give the Bucks an opening, they will take it and the Celtics season will be over.
Stay Focused and Composed - The Celtics seemed to lose their focus and composure in their losses. They went away from the ball movement and team play that has been so successful for them. Players have spent too much time complaining to the refs about calls and in at least 3 cases in Game 5, that cost the Celtics when they didn’t get back on defense and the Bucks hit a 3 pointer. The Celtics have to play through the bad calls that are inevitably coming. They have to play hard and play together and not allow the pressure or the stress to take them out of their game. If they play like they are capable of and stay focused and composed, they will win this game. It is theirs to win or lose.
Coaching - Coaching is still an X-Factor in this game. There will once again be adjustments on both sides going into the game and during the game. Will Ime once again make the right adjustments after the loss in Game 5? Will Budenholzer come up with a new wrinkle that the Celtics can’t match? Which coach will make the right moves for their team to win?
Close Out Game - Close out games are historically the toughest to win. The team that is down and whose season is on the line will usually have a greater sense of urgency and be more aggressive as they try to keep their season alive. The team that is up often plays with less urgency because in the back of their minds, they have another chance to close it out. Example: the 39 point drubbing of the Warriors by the Grizzlies without their best player. Will the Celtics play with the urgency and aggressiveness that it will take to get the win?
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 53 free throws through 5 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. Jayson Tatum and Grant Williams have especially let bad officiating get to them in this series. The Celtics can’t allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on the game. I’m hoping that the officiating in this game will be fair and even and that they allow the players to play and to decide the game and not the officials.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are 1.5-point underdogs for Game 6 in Milwaukee. That’s generally been the line for all the games at Fiserv Forum in this series, but the weight of an elimination game — particularly one following the epic collapse in Game 5 — is a little heavier. One on hand, Boston can feel confident in only losing Games 3 & 5 by a combined 5 points. On the other, they’re facing a 3-2 series deficit and a potential season-ending game.
At the time of this writing, the status of Robert Williams is in the air. The team listed him as questionable on Thursday. Per Ime Udoka, the swelling in his surgically repaired knee has subsided, but there’s still residual soreness and it’s a matter of pain tolerance at this point.
If Game 5 was The Jrue Holiday Game, Celtics fans must be waiting for The Jayson Tatum Game and there would be no better time than today. He’s scored 30+ in the last two games, but we’ve yet to see that superstar performance from him like he had against the Nets on the road in Game 3 that announces himself as an equal to Kevin Durant and Antetokounmpo. He’s made only five of his last 27 threes over the last three games and if you believe that water eventually finds its level, Game 6 could be a flood.
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.
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