The Celtics host the Milwaukee Bucks for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They enter this game down 0-1 after losing the first game 101-89 on Sunday afternoon. The Celtics defense held the Bucks to 101 points on 41.1 shooting but they struggled on offense. The Celtics shot just 33.3% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. That might seem like a decent percentage on three pointers until you see that they shot 50 threes for the game. They had just 3 shots that weren’t either in the paint or beyond the arc.
While losing the first game of a series is not ideal, it isn’t the end of the world. Teams that win Game 1 on the road go on to win the series just 51.3% of the time. Over the past decade, lower seeded teams that won game 1 on the road by double digits are just 2-10 in winning the series. In 2019, the Celtics blew out the Bucks in Game 1 in Milwaukee but the Bucks went on to win the next 4 games to win the series in 5. The Celtics need to win this one, however, because teams that go up 2-0 win the series 92.4% of the time.
Since April 1, the Celtics are 8-0 in games against everyone but the Bucks. Against the Bucks, the Celtics are 0-2. It’s possible that they are just a bad matchup but when they played on April 7, the Celtics were without Jayson Tatum, Robert Williams, and Al Horford. The Bucks were healthy except for Grayson Allen and yet the Bucks won by just 6 points. The Celtics had been off for almost a week when they faced the Bucks and so, rust may have been a factor. And before Game 1, they played a team that had minimum defense and didn’t have the size or physicality of the Bucks. Hopefully they will adjust and take Game 2.
Marcus Smart took quite a beating in Game 1. He left in the second quarter with a shoulder stinger and a quad contusion. He returned after halftime, but appeared to favor the shoulder the rest of the game. He is listed as questionable going into this game with a bad quad bruise. Because it’s the playoffs and because it’s Marcus Smart, I expect him to play. Jaylen Brown grabbed his hamstring after a play in Game 1 but he said that it was fine and he isn’t on the injury list. If Smart can’t play, I would guess that Payton Pritchard will get the start in his place.
For the Bucks, George Hill is out with an abdominal strain. He hasn’t played since April 8. He was limited in Monday’s practice and is not expected to be back until at least Saturday’s game in Milwaukee. Khris Middleton is out with a grade 2 MCL sprain and is not expected back for this game or for the rest of the series. I expect the same starters for both teams for this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
Marcus Smart (quad) questionable
Probable Bucks Starters
George Hill (abdomen) out
Khris Middleton (knee) out
Al Horford vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
Antetokounmpo averaged 28.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.4 blocks in the first round against the Bulls. He shot 56.8% from the field and 15.4% from beyond the arc. 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. Along with making him work for his points, the Celtics will need to limit his passes in this game as his 12 assists resulted in 7 threes and 5 twos for 31 points for the Bucks.
Marcus Smart vs Jrue Holiday
Holiday averaged 16.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists against the Bulls in the first round. He shot 40.7% from the field and 34.5% from beyond the arc in the first round. He had 25 points (8-20), 10 rebounds, and 5 assists in Game 1. With Marcus Smart limited in the second half of last game and possibly for this game, Holiday’s play will be key for the Bucks.
Jayson Tatum vs Bobby Portis
Portis averaged 11.6 points, and 11.4 rebounds in the first round against the Bulls. For the series, he shot 44.9% from the field and 36.0% from beyond the arc. In his starts after Middleton went down, he averaged 16 points, 13 rebounds and shot 50% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc. He had 15 points, 11 rebounds and 1 assist in Game 1, but his defense and his length was a big factor for them. Jayson Tatum struggled in Game 1 and the Celtics need him to get back on track in this game if they hope to get a win.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the biggest key to winning. The Bucks are first in the post season with a defensive rating of 93.5. The Celtics are 8th with a defensive rating of 111.9. The Celtics defense was good in Game 1, holding the Bucks to 101 points. However, the Bucks defense was even better, holding the Celtics to just 89 points. The Celtics have to defend Giannis but, they also have to pay attention to the Bucks other starters and role players because they are making their shots and so the Celtics must not ignore them while trying to slow down Giannis. The Celtics have to play harder on defense than the Bucks in order to win this series.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding is an important 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. The Bucks are first in the playoffs with 52.2 rebounds per game. The Celtics are 8th with 41.2 rebounds per game. The Bucks out-rebounded the Celtics 66-54 in Game 1 and so the Celtics will need to work harder in this game to beat the Bucks on the boards.
Step Away from the 3 Point Line - The Bucks were pretty much closing off the paint and so the Celtics resorted to shooting 3 pointer after 3 pointer. They shot 50 threes for the game (yes, FIFTY), making just 15 of them. They had just 3 shots that weren’t either 3’s or in the paint. Hopefully the Celtics can figure out how to get inside more and if the 3’s aren’t falling, maybe take a few more mid range shots. But, shooting 50 threes isn’t a good formula for winning a playoff game.
Stay Focused - The Celtics had 18 turnovers in game 1 to just 13 for the Bucks. The Bucks scored 27 points off of those turnovers. The Celtics have to focus on making crisp passes and on handling the ball with care. They can’t get sloppy with passes or with dribbling. They also have to focus on taking good shots and on making them. They missed 5 free throws along with all of the other shots and often that shows a lack of focus. The Celtics also seemed to get frustrated by the refs and the physicality of the Bucks and seemed to lose their composure. They have to keep their focus and not let the Bucks or the refs take it away from them.
Coaching - Buth Ime Udoka and Mike Budenholzer coached under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. Budenholzer spent 17 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, serving as an alternate video coordinator for the first two seasons and then as an assistant coach. Ime Udoka served as an assistant coach under Popovich for 7 years, winning a championship with them in 2014. Budenholzer is a 2 time Coach of the Year and led the Bucks to a championship last season while Udoka is a rookie head coach. There will be adjustments on both sides going into this game. Which coach will make the right adjustments and come out on top in Game 2?
Home Court - The Celtics came into Game 1 with home court advantage for the series but the Bucks have taken that from them with the first game win. The Celtics need to get extra motivation from playing on their home court and from the home crowd, which hopefully will be loud. The Bucks are mostly a veteran team and so will not likely get as rattled as a younger team would when playing in front of a hostile crowd on the road but the Celtics should still have an advantage at home.
Marcus Smart - Marcus Smart is the heart and soul of this team. He is the head of the snake that is the Celtics defense. He initiates the offense and directs the defense. If he can’t play, the Celtics will struggle on both ends of the court. If he is limited due to injuries, the Celtics may still struggle. If the Bucks wanted to handicap the Celtics, injuring Marcus Smart was a good way to do it. Hopefully he will be able to play and won’t be limited by his injuries.
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. Giannis seems to always get more than his share of calls and shot 11 in Game 1, more than any other player on either team. The Celtics, especially Jayson Tatum, let the refs get to them in Game 1. The Celtics have to play through however the refs call the game, whether it is tight or they let them play. They 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-point favorites hosting the Bucks in Game 2 of the second round. It’s a surprising spread considering what happened on Sunday. Not only did Milwaukee’s pack-the-paint defense stymy Boston’s offensive flow, but Marcus Smart is banged up and was listed as questionable yesterday with a quad contusion.
If playoff series are all about adjustments, all eyes will be on what Boston does from behind the arc tonight. After shooting 50 three-pointers in Game 1, head coach Ime Udoka said after practice on Monday that he doesn’t mind the uncontested looks, but there were a handful of early shot clock and tough threes that Boston will try and cut out of its diet in Game 2. The curious balance now is whether the Celtics will take what Milwaukee is giving them or be more aggressive and challenge the Bucks in the paint.
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.
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