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Three things to look for as the Celtics host the Bucks

Jayson Tatum and Giannis Antetokounmpo go head-to-head with a chance to bolster their MVP chances.

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum go head to head.
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Just in case those last three games didn’t have enough drama for you, the juiciness has a chance to reach a new level when the Celtics host the Bucks tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Boston has won six of seven, and boasts the NBA’s best record, but you wouldn’t know it based on the irrational level of panic among fans. Where’s the faith, people? They weren’t going to go 82-0. This isn’t entirely unexpected. I still think this team has a higher “poise ceiling” in key moments than others in the past because of its personnel.

Wednesday’s game gives the Celtics a chance to prove that. Yes, they are the favorites in the East until further notice. At the same time, it’s important to remember that a loss doesn’t derail their title hopes. It’s still November, after all.

Here are three things to look for:

Which version of the Celtics shows up?

While it’s pretty clear that skeptics are overreacting, it’s also true that the Celtics have been a bit less consistent than usual lately.

Against the Grizzlies and Hornets, they looked like a team trying not to lose, as opposed to one trying to finish off an inferior opponent. Good teams win pretty, while great teams win pretty and ugly. I expect the Charlotte game to be an outlier moving forward, though it’s inevitable setbacks like that will trickle in occasionally. When they do, I encourage everyone to take a deep collective breath.

At the same time, this is an important game for Boston to show what the matchup looks like when everything is clicking. No one’s expecting perfection at this point in the season, yet putting forth a complete effort would quiet fans looking for a reason to complain.

Limiting key turnovers, avoiding isolation late, keeping tabs on cutters, making free throws and knowing time and score would be a start. It certainly hasn’t always been pretty, but stretches like this aren’t always a bad thing in the long run.

Who prevails between Jayson Tatum and Giannis Antetokounmpo?

Trivia question for you: Who’s winning the head-to-head series (regular season and playoffs) all-time between Tatum and Antetokounmpo?

If you guessed neither, you’re right. In 36 meetings, each has won 18 times – Tatum is 9-8 in the regular season and Antetokounmpo is 10-9 in the playoffs. That’s pretty crazy in a sense, yet not at all surprising in another. It exemplifies how entertaining it often is when these teams meet.

Other rivalries seem to deliver in stretches, but not always; this one seems to consistently bring the action. If Tatum wants to bolster his Most Valuable Player chances, this would be an excellent opportunity.

Tatum was spectacular against the Hornets, racking up 45 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. No one’s asking him to do that against the Bucks, but one of those classic 27, 8 and 5 games – with big-time plays in the clutch – might do the trick.

What does Jrue Holiday vs. Damian Lillard look like?

The Bucks have the edge in this individual matchup for the obvious reason that Lillard (who’s probable with a left oblique strain) is ridiculously skilled offensively. But the Celtics have the advantage in that Holiday can a) wear Lillard down with his constant pressure, b)dDoesn’t have to shoot a lot to be effective, and c) knows his former teammates’ tendencies.

I could be wrong, but I actually don't expect Holiday or Lillard to go off in this one. I think they’ll both exert so much energy trying to slow the other down that they’ll both shoot poorly yet contribute to winning in other ways.

Holiday has made some timely plays recently, but he’s also made some head-scratching ones. This is a great opportunity for him to show exactly why the Celtics got him. Whether he admits it or not, it’s obvious this one will mean more. There’s are few things better in the regular season than beating your former team in a marquee matchup.

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