Celtics First Round Playoff Preview
As the Boston Celtics prepare for their first round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks, let's look at the match up.
2 Vs. 7- The series, which kicks off at the TD Garden on Sunday at 1:00 PM, is a match up of the Eastern Conference's second and seventh seeds. Boston finished four games back of the top seeded Toronto Raptors, while the Bucks lost a tiebreak to the Miami Heat for the sixth overall spot.
An Even Split- The two teams split their four regular season match ups this year, with each team claiming a home and a road win. Boston had the largest margin of victory, winning by 11 points at the TD Garden in December, while the Bucks had one by the smallest margin, just 4 points, in the teams' final meeting a week and a half ago. Both teams taking a game on the road shows that the series has the potential to swing either way.
Battling Injuries- The C's enter the series knowing they will be without star guard Kyrie Irving for the entirety of the postseason and sixth man Marcus Smart, who leads the team on defense, for an extended time and likely at least the entire first round. With both Irving and Smart sidelined, the C's have a tough task ahead of them.
Counting On The Young Guns- With key veterans out, Boston will need to count on their young stars, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, through the postseason. Brown took a big step in his second full season, doubling up his averages in almost every statistical category. Tatum, the team's first round pick this season, played more minutes than initially expected this season, due to injuries to veterans. He did handle the unexpected minutes well, however, averaging 13.9 points, 1.6 assists and five rebounds over 15.29 minutes per game. Both players kicked it up over the final 10 games of the season, with Tatum averaging just over 30 minutes and 12.8 points per game and Brown playing a tick under 30 minutes and scoring just over 17 points per game. The two young guns will need to keep up that pace to help provide enough offensive punch for the C's, as they try to navigate a previously expected extended playoff run.
Other Starters Need To Step Up- While a lot of pressure will be put on Brown and Tatum to perform throughout Boston's run, the team's other starters, especially Al Horford and Terry Rozier, will need to put together strong performances to extend the C's playoff journey. Horford, who is making max money but playing much more like a role player, will need to raise his game and show more willingness to get himself good looks in the offensive zone. Rozier, who raised his game down the stretch of the season after being inserted into the starting lineup, will need to keep his advanced level of production up as well.
Dealing With The Freak- The C's will have their hands full, dealing with the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, throughout the series. The Freak put together a dominant season this year, averaging career highs in minutes played (36.7), points (26.9) and rebounds (10) per game. Cementing himself as one of the game's top young stars, Antetokounmpo proved to be a handful for just about every team he played this season. In four games against the C's, the 23-year-old averaged 33.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and five assists per game. It might be best for Boston to turn their attention to shutting down the Freak's teammates, as he is likely to go off no matter what they try to do to him.
Easier Said Than Done- Quieting Antetokounmpo's teammates might be a task that proves to be easier said than done, as his supporting cast is a strong one.Guys like Jabari Parker, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton all present a true threat to the C's on any given night. Couple one of those guys with the Greek Freak and it could be awfully tough sledding for Boston.
Coaching Battle- The nod in the coaching battle must go to Boston's Brad Stevens, as he has the clear "been there, done that" factor advantage over Milwaukee's Joe Prunty. Stevens is considered one of the top coaches in the league and has advanced further into the postseason with the C's each year he has been at the helm. Prunty took over mid-season, after the the Bucks canned Jason Kidd. He has had success in his brief stint and has a lot of experience as an assistant on playoff teams, but he's never been the top coach before.
Prediction- While this is a match up of one of the conference's top seeds and one of it's bottom seeds, the series should play out much closer than it might seem on paper. With all of Boston's injuries and it's likely reliance on young players without any real postseason experience and a lack of minutes under their belt, they have legitimate weaknesses that could make any rational person lean towards Milwaukee for the upset. Giannis is a beast and is the one player in the series, who could take over and win the thing on his own. Regardless of outcome, this series has the feeling of one that will go the limit or awfully close to it. It might simply come down to a little too much star power for a team that suffered some tough injuries at the wrong time:
Bucks in 7