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Boston Celtics (52-24) at Milwaukee Bucks (55-21) Game #77 3/30/23

The Celtics and Bucks square off in Milwaukee as both teams have their eye on home court in the playoffs.

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

In a 2022 Eastern Conference Semifinals rematch and a possible 2023 Eastern Conference Finals preview, the Celtics go on the road to visit the Milwaukee Bucks. This is the 3rd and final meeting between these two teams this season. The Celtics beat the Bucks 139-118 in Boston on Christmas Day. A very shorthanded Celtics team lost 131-125 in OT on February 14 in Milwaukee. These teams were 2-2 last season with each team winning at home.

The Bucks are playing in the first game at home after a 4 game road trip. This is also the second of back to back games for them, having played in Indiana on Wednesday. They will then have 3 days off before playing the 76ers on Sunday. They are 9-2 in the second of back to back games. The Celtics are playing in the second straight road game after losing in Washington on Tuesday. The Celtics are playing in the first of back to back games and will return home to face the Jazz on Friday.

The Celtics remain 2nd in the East, 3 games behind the 1st place Milwaukee Bucks who beat the Pacers on Tuesday. They are 2 games ahead of the 3rd place Philadelphia 76ers and 4.5 games ahead of the 4th place Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics are 24-16 on the road and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 30-17 against Eastern Conference opponents. They lost their last game.

The Bucks are 1st in the East, 3 games ahead of the 2nd place Celtics. They are 5 games ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia and 7.5 games ahead of 4th place Cleveland. They are 30-7 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 32-15 against Eastern Conference opponents. They won their last 2 games. The Celtics are 115-110 all time against the Bucks. They are just 42-70 in games played in Milwaukee and 73-40 in games played in Boston. That indicates that home court in the playoffs could be very important.

With Milwaukee playing in the second of back to back games and Boston playing in the first of back to back games, some players may be added to the injury list for injury management. At the moment, Danilo Gallinari (ACL) is the only Celtic listed as out. Robert Williams III (knee) is questionable and will likely sit out this game or Friday’s against the Jazz. Grant Williams is questionable with a non-covid illness. Payton Pritchard (heel) is also questionable.

For the Bucks, Khris Middleton is probable after sitting out Wednesday’s game for injury management. Jae Crowder (calf) is questionable and Meyers Leonard (calf) is questionable. The status of the questionable players for both teams will be a game time decision.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Malcolm Brogdon
Sam Hauser
Luke Kornet
Blake Griffin
Mike Muscala

2 Way Players
JD Davison
Mfiondu Kabengele

Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Robert Williams III (knee) questionable
Grant Williams (illness) questionable
Payton Pritchard (heel) questionable

Head Coach
Joe Mazzulla

Probable Bucks Starters

Bucks Reserves
Thanasis Antetokounmpo
MarJon Beauchamp
Jevon Carter
Pat Connaughton
Goran Dragic
Joe Ingles
Wesley Matthews
Bobby Portis, Jr

2-Way Players
AJ Green
Lindell Wigginton

Jae Crowder (calf) questionable
Khris Middleton (knee) probable
Meyers Leonard (calf) questionable

Head Coach
Mike Budenholzer

Key Matchups

Jayson Tatum vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ best player and possibly the league’s best player. He is averaging 31.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game. He is shooting 55% from the field but just 28.5% from beyond the arc. In last year’s playoffs, Grant Williams had some success guarding him and we may see that matchup in this game. Jayson Tatum has been struggling somewhat and the Celtics need him to get back to playing well. Hopefully he will find his outside shot again but if not, he needs to get to the hoop.

Marcus Smart vs Jrue Holiday
Holiday is averaging 18.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He is shooting 47.1% from the field and 37.9% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to play Holiday tightly on defense to limit his production since he is the biggest threat other than Antetokounmpo. He finished the February 14 game with 40 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. Holiday is also a good defender and so the Celtics need to be aware of him forcing turnovers.

Honorable Mention
Jaylen Brown vs Khris Middleton
Middleton is averaging 15.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game. He is shooting 44.1% from the field and 31.5% from beyond the arc. He came off the bench in the last meeting between these two teams to put up 16 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists. In the past, Middleton has been a Celtics killer and has had quite a few big games against them. After being the Celtics best player recently, Brown had a sub-par game on Tuesday and hopefully he will bounce back with a good game in this one.

Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the biggest key to winning. Defense really does win championships. The Bucks have been winning games with their defense. They are 2nd with a defensive rating of 110.0. The Celtics have climbed up to 4th with a defensive rating of 110.9 but their defense has not been consistent. They played very little defense in their loss to the Wizards on Tuesday. 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 if they hope to win.

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 are a good rebounding team with 48.9 rebounds per game (1st) while the Celtics are 7th with 45.2 rebounds per game. The Bucks are 45-10 when they have more rebounds than their opponents. The Celtics must out work the Bucks on the boards if they hope to get a win in this one.

Stay Focused - A lack of focus can explain a lot of the Celtics problems when they struggle. They lose focus and turn the ball over time after time during stretches in the game. They also lose focus and struggle to hit shots that they would usually make. At times they also lose focus on defense and miss assignments and allow opponents open shots on the perimeter and easy shots inside. The Celtics must stay focused and take care of the ball, focus on taking and making good shots, and focus on playing tough team defense.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team in order to have a chance to beat the Bucks, who are playing very well. They have to be more aggressive in going for loose balls and in crashing the boards. They have to be more aggressive on defense and they have to be aggressive in going to the basket and not settling for 3’s if they aren’t falling. They allowed a tanking Wizards team to be the more aggressive team and it cost them. They can’t allow the Bucks to play harder than them.

Home Court and Fatigue - The Bucks are a very good home team, losing just 7 games so far this season. They beat the Celtics once already in Milwaukee this season. The Celtics can’t allow the distractions of playing on the road to take away their focus on playing the right way. The Bucks are playing in the second of back to back games, although it was an easy win over the Pacers, giving the Bucks’ starters some rest in the 4th quarter. Travel and back to back games could affect the play of the Bucks.

Officiating - The officiating can always be an x-factor. 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 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. 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.

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