With the series tied at 1 game a piece, the series now shifts to Milwaukee for a pivotal game 3. 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 were 27-15 at home this season while the Celtics were 23-18 on the road. The Celtics went 16-5 over their final 21 road games of the regular season. In those games, they outscored opponents by 15.1 points per 100 possessions. The next closest were Denver and Phoenix, who were +6.6 in net rating. The Celtics lost both their games in Milwaukee during the season. Milwaukee was 10-1 at home in last year’s playoffs. They lost at home against the Bulls in Game 2 of this year’s first round.
Like the first game, this game is a matinee game. The Celtics have played 9 afternoon games this season, going 7-2 in those games. They are 1-1 in the playoffs in early games. The Bucks have played 5 matinee games this season, going 3-2 in those games. They are 1-0 in the playoffs, with that game being their win over the Celtics in Game 1. Both teams have had 3 days off since their last game. The Celtics have a .600 win percentage on 3 days rest while the Bucks have a .500 win percentage on 3 days rest.
The Celtics are hoping to get Marcus Smart back for this game. Smart missed Game 2 with a quad contusion that he suffered in Game 1 against the Bucks. He is listed as probable for this game. Also on the injured list is Sam Hauser, who is out with a shoulder injury. The Bucks are hoping to get George Hill back, who is also listed as probable. He hasn’t played since April 8 and has missed all of the playoffs so far. He will likely be on a minutes restriction if he does play.
Probable Celtics Starters
Marcus Smart (quad) probable
Sam Hauser (shoulder) out
Probable Bucks Starters
George Hill (abdomen) probable
Khris Middleton (knee) out
Al Horford vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
Once again, the matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo is the key matchup. I also need to mention Grant Williams in this matchup since he was a big part of defending him in previous games. 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. The Celtics will need Al Horford and Grant Williams to once again limit his effectiveness in this game while also limiting his ability to find open teammates.
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. He shot just 35% from the field and 16.7% from beyond the arc in that game. Marcus Smart is expected to return for this game and will need to limit Holiday once again in this game. Hopefully Smart will be at 100% so that he can be effective on both ends of the court.
Jayson Tatum vs Bobby Portis
Once again, Tatum vs Portis will be another key matchup. Portis had 15 points, 11 rebounds and 1 assist in Game 1 and followed that with 13 points, and 8 rebounds in Game 2. His length and defense were key for the Bucks also. Jayson Tatum struggled in Game 1 but bounced back in Game 2 with 29 points on 50% shooting. The Celtics will need another big game from Tatum in this game if they hope to win on the road.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the biggest key to winning, and especially more so in the playoffs. Defense wins championships is not just a cute saying, it is a fact. The Bucks are first in the post season with a defensive rating of 96.8. The Celtics are 5th with a defensive rating of 108.5. 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. It was reversed in Game 2 with the Bucks defense holding the Celtics to 109 points while the Celtics defense was even better, holding the Bucks to 86 points. The Celtics must work harder on defense and limit the Bucks’ scoring if they hope to win this series.
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. The Bucks are first in the playoffs with 50.0 rebounds per game. The Celtics are 8th with 41.0 rebounds per game. The Bucks out-rebounded the Celtics 66-54 in Game 1 and the Celtics came back to out-rebound the Bucks 40-37 in Game 2. The Celtics must out work the Bucks on the boards in order to win this game on the road.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics turned the ball over 18 times in Game 1, giving the Bucks 27 points off those 18 turnovers. In Game 2, the Celtics took much better care of the ball with only 11 turnovers. The Bucks, on the other hand turned the ball over 16 times, giving the Celtics 24 points off those turnovers. The Celtics must continue to take care of the ball, making crisp passes and not get sloppy with their passes. They also have to focus on handling the ball carefully and not allow the Bucks to frustrate their ball handlers into turning the ball over.
Keep Moving - When the Celtics keep the ball moving and keep moving without the ball to get open, they are tough to beat. But, when they settle for quick shots and when they play hero-ball and have iso play after iso play, the offense gets bogged down and they struggle to score. The Celtics have to move the ball up the court quickly and get easy baskets before the Bucks get their defense set up. They have to move the ball to find the best shots. They played that way in Game 2 and it resulted in a big win. They need to play that way once again in this game.
Play Hard for 48 minutes - The Celtics need to hit first and come out strong as they did in Game 2. They have to start the game strong, pushing the ball, putting out a big effort on defense, crashing the boards and playing harder than the Bucks right from the start. They have to play that way throughout the game and not let up because the Bucks can make up a deficit or get ahead very quickly if the Celtics allow them to be the team that plays harder. The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team from the opening tip until the final buzzer.
X-Factors Coaching -
The Bucks coach, Mike 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. Ime made the right adjustments from Game 1 to Game 2. There will be adjustments on both sides going into this game. Will Ime once again make the right adjustments? 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?
Matinee Game on the Road - Afternoon games are tough for teams as it throws all of their routines off and players sometime struggle with the early starts. The Celtics have had 9 early starts this season and have played very well in them, winning 7 of them. The Bucks have won 3 of their 5 early starts this season. Also, playing on the road is tough for teams as they have travel fatigue to deal with, sleeping in an unfamiliar place, playing in an unfamiliar arena and most of all, playing in front of a hostile crowd. Can the Celtics overcome the early start and the distractions of playing on the road?
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 free throwd in Game 1 and 9 free throws in Game 2, more than any other 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. Jayson Tatum especially seems to let bad officiating get to him. 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 2-point underdogs heading to Milwaukee for Game 3. For what it’s worth, hosting Games 1 & 2, the spread hovered around 5-points in Boston’s favor.
With at least three games remaining, there will certainly be more tweaks made by both coaches, but for now, the recipe for the Celtics seems to be playing Giannis Antetokounmpo straight up with a combination of Al Horford and Grant Williams and staying home of Milwaukee’s other players. If that defensive scheme holds in Game 3 and Boston continues to hunt good-to-great shots, they could wrestle back home court advantage this afternoon.
With Marcus Smart upgraded to probable and Jaylen Brown and his balky hamstring coming off four days rest, Boston’s defense should be further fortified despite hitting the road. Trends-wise, the Celtics were able to weather the storm away from TD Garden and a slightly better road team after January 1st; they shot the ball better from behind the arc and were stingier on defense. It’s unlikely Boston will be as white hot as they were on Tuesday from 3 and the Bucks should hit more on their home floor than they did on the parquet (3-for-18), but the key will be limiting the number of three-balls Milwaukee takes and not necessarily makes if the Celtics want to steal Game 3.
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.
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