Zach LoweESPN Senior Creator
This sequence is set belief — how a lot you shriek the Boston Celtics luxuriate in at closing contrivance together, and the arrangement a lot weight you set on the Milwaukee Bucks‘ 86-sport song story of championship-diploma dominance.
Within the macro sense, here’s a Bucks cakewalk. Milwaukee gained eleven extra video games, with some extent differential double Boston’s. The Bucks take dwelling court. They’ve the finest participant, and so that they’ll play him as many minutes as they want.
But postseason sequence elevate out no longer play out on the macro diploma. They’re seven video games between two groups, no longer 82 video games in opposition to 29 opponents. Boston brings advantages that will furthermore put this a a lot extra competitive sequence than vast-record numbers counsel. The Celtics can settle on.
Malcolm Brogdon will omit on the least the first two video games. Who’s aware of how he could well furthermore behold upon returning. He issues plenty. (So does the injured Marcus Orderly, Boston’s hunch-to defender in opposition to Khris Middleton — who grew to alter into into Michael Jordan in closing season’s playoffs.)
With Abundant Brown beginning somewhat than Brogdon, Boston will luxuriate in an much less difficult time hiding Kyrie Irving in a sequence in which Milwaukee could well furthermore hunch Kyrie looking out — treating Irving the technique Irving’s Cavaliers famously treated Stephen Curry. Without Brogdon, Milwaukee has one fewer quality trail for small-ball lineups that comprises Giannis Antetokounmpo (or one in every of Ersan Ilyasova/Nikola Mirotic/D.J. Wilson, reckoning for your positional taste) at center — groups Milwaukee will want extra now.
They want them resulting from Al Horford. He has constantly defended Antetokounmpo successfully. No one can finish Antetokounmpo — no longer this souped-up version with extra sneering confidence, and an rising bounce shot. But Horford makes him work. He is one in every of the entirely defenders alive able to having fun with off Antetokounmpo, girding himself for the arriving assault, and staying in front of the likely MVP without conceding a parade of dunks.
Scoff whilst you happen to love. Antetokounmpo averaged 25.7 parts, 9.6 rebounds and 6.three assists per sport on fifty seven % shooting in opposition to Boston in closing season’s first spherical. Horford clearly didn’t finish him.
But Boston has a ancient previous of outscoring Milwaukee with Horford and Antetokounmpo on the bottom, and that extended into this season. (The pattern dimension is runt, obviously.) Something about that matchup troubles the Bucks.
Boston could well furthermore very successfully be no longer a lot skittish about anybody beyond Antetokounmpo. Even without Orderly, they’ve sufficient rangy wings to throw at Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and the comfort — and to swap plenty. This sequence could well furthermore contrivance the entire arrangement down to Horford and Antetokounmpo — at every ends.
If Boston starts Horford and Aron Baynes, Horford and Antetokounmpo will likely be positional matches as nominal energy forwards. Most coaches would preserve with the Baynes-Horford duo. Boston outscored opponents by almost 20 parts per a hundred possessions with those two on the bottom in 163 customary-season minutes, per NBA.com. They stabilized Boston’s slumping defense. The Celtics correct swept Indiana. Why replace?
Baynes is also orderly walling off the paint in transition — a must in opposition to Antetokounmpo. He affords one extra vast aid defender in the lend a hand of Horford.
However the Celtics could well furthermore no longer ranking with Baynes and Horford in opposition to Indiana. Boston was minus-5 in Forty three such minutes with a scoring worth — 90 parts per a hundred possessions — that looks love a typo.
Baynes also affords Brook Lopez a resting set on defense. That hand over of the bottom will resolve Boston’s chances. Boston’s defense is terribly correct, however it would take Milwaukee’s offense — 1/three-finest total — down entirely plenty. Milwaukee must ranking at something love a league-moderate price (on the least). Boston’s offense is the shakiest of the four items; can it hit league moderate in opposition to the NBA’s stingiest defense?
Dragging Lopez into streams of Irving settle on-and-rolls is the obtrusive relaxed set. The Bucks have interaction to luxuriate in Lopez dangle shut to the rim. That setup concedes originate midrange jumpers. The fellows defending Irving — mainly Bledsoe and George Hill — luxuriate in to stick with it Irving’s hip:
But if the shroud for Irving hits flush — and if the Celtics set them greater on the bottom, successfully above the three-point arc — Irving will plug into some originate three-pointers.
Boston can design those shots with Baynes screening for Irving. Baynes items cement-wall picks. But Lopez will no longer fear about Baynes popping for 3s; he can sell out containing Irving. Baynes will hit a couple of vast-originate 3s. Boston can set Horford in the nook as a floor spacer, luxuriate in Baynes roll to the rim, and pray he can put performs in opposition to a scrambled defense.
But extra Baynes is a settle on for Milwaukee. Boston takes this sequence entirely by weaponizing the Irving-Horford settle on-and-roll to a diploma they by no technique luxuriate in — and aiming it at Lopez.
Horford will hit sufficient of those originate 3s to be a divulge:
(Attacking Lopez early, in semi-transition, helps. Ditto for shroud-the-screener actions, in which a third Celtic smashes Lopez as he lumbers from the paint.)
Flash a third defender at Horford, and he’ll whip the ball to that guy’s man — setting off a chain of passes that in general ends in a correct shot.
One technique to (per chance) guarantee plenty of Lopez-on-Horford is to beginning up Gordon Hayward somewhat than Baynes. That could well well restore the beginning five Boston intended to make expend of in every of the previous two seasons — a lineup that regarded renewed in opposition to the Pacers.
(Boston could well furthermore in theory beginning up Semi Ojeleye, their “ruin in case of Giannis” deep-bench guy. That could well well enable them to play Horford at center while sloughing one of the significant Antetokounmpo assignment onto one more person — Ojeleye. Defending Antetokounmpo is brutal work. Horford could well furthermore wilt doing it 30-ish minutes per sport. Ojeleye will play on this sequence, however beginning him feels love overthinking. Play your finest guys.)
Boston goes to play Horford at center plenty despite who starts. The Celtics can play that technique and preserve Horford on Antetokounmpo. That could well well require Hayward, Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown defend Brook Lopez, however that will no longer if truth be told a divulge with Lopez mainly standing all the arrangement throughout the arc.
Boston has already long previous this route some in opposition to the Bucks. Lopez could well furthermore post those guys up, however Milwaukee has from time to time ever veered from its core offense to take out that. Boston would welcome any Lopez bully ball — and adjust accordingly — if it supposed extra of Lopez guarding Horford.
Boston ran about 30 Irving-Horford settle on-and-rolls per a hundred possessions in the first spherical — about seven extra than their customary-season moderate, per 2nd Spectrum. The Celtics must doubtlessly push that toward forty, and impart every guys to jack plenty of 3s.
Lopez is nimbler than it’s essential to to well well furthermore deem after having watched Milwaukee plant him in the paint all season. He has proven occasional capacity to step out on Irving, and obtain greater to contest Horford’s shot:
But Horford will digest that, unleash some mean pump-fakery, and blow by Lopez for added winning stuff. Creeping out also exposes Lopez to Irving turning the nook into the identical 5-on-three.
Boston plenty of its Irving-Horford assault is compulsory. Milwaukee could well furthermore very successfully be magnificent with Horford shooting 10 semi-originate 3s per sport from above the ruin. The Bucks luxuriate in let greater shooters chuck. Few vast males are looking out to shoot time and one more time — especially in the occasion that they omit two or three straight. Guilt items in. They hesitate. Hesitation kills. The Bucks also know opponents will by no technique generate layups or free throws that technique.
That’s what makes this matchup so spirited: Milwaukee is hell-zigzag on eradicating shots on the rim and free throws, however Boston is already monstrous at producing both. The Celtics ranked dumb closing in free throw price and twenty seventh in the proportion of shots that came on the basket. Most groups lose something in opposition to Milwaukee. Boston is already having fun with how Milwaukee wants its opponents to play.
That must aid the Celtics. They’re designed to capture the types of shots Milwaukee concedes. The tendencies grew to alter into a lot extra vulgar in three customary-season matchups; Boston’s attempts shut to the basket plummeted, and the Celtics redistributed almost all of them into non-nook 3s, per Cleansing The Glass.
Almost every crew wants to shoot successfully to beat one more correct crew four instances in seven tries. Duh. But that’s terribly so for Boston here. If the Celtics can manipulate rotations and schemes to design the moral bounce shots, and put plenty of them, they’ll pull the upset.
They must obtain a ton of shots up, too. Milwaukee ranked 25th in forcing turnovers, and Boston takes care of the ball. In three customary-season video games, Boston coughed the ball up on correct Eight.2 % of its possessions — miles below the league’s finest turnover price. A total failure to obtain to the rim and the road doesn’t be troubled as a lot whilst you happen to shoot on every time out.
Clearly, Milwaukee doesn’t luxuriate in to correct settle for the Lopez-on-Horford matchup. The Bucks could well furthermore conceal Lopez on Brown or Hayward, and revel in Antetokounmpo rush Horford off originate 3s. (When issues obtain tight, I suspect Antetokounmpo will defend Horford extra than ever.) Boston could well furthermore counter by using those guys in screening actions — shoving Lopez moral lend a hand onto center stage.
Milwaukee could well furthermore nick Lopez’s minutes, and play Antetokounmpo extra at center. These lineups can swap plenty, and vaporize Boston’s originate jumpers. Horford can post up most of Milwaukee’s perimeter guys on those switches. But can anybody else? Does Milwaukee fear Tatum — Boston’s finest one-on-one trail — in opposition to anybody in a Bledsoe/Middleton/Abundant Brown/Antetokounmpo/Mirotic lineup? (Facet show: Mirotic could well furthermore very successfully be substantial on this sequence.)
That is one in every of the overarching questions in these playoffs: Is Mike Budenholzer prepared to scrap the inspiration that got Milwaukee this some distance and play an fully utterly different model if the scenario requires it? His playoff story doesn’t counsel immediate wholesale adaptability. Only Orlando switched monitors extra from time to time ever than the Bucks, per 2nd Spectrum. In some unspecified time in the future — per chance now — Milwaukee must diversify.
It be no longer even determined who benefits if Boston goes small and performs Lopez off the bottom. It will furthermore mean Boston’s small-ball lineups luxuriate in devastated Milwaukee. It will furthermore mean Milwaukee has adjusted preemptively — and eliminated Boston’s one mismatch advantage. How elevate out the Celtics balance having fun with their finest lineups while conserving the Lopez/Horford matchup on the board?
But as prolonged as Brogdon is out, transferring some distance from Lopez on the entire is a raw talent downgrade for the Bucks. Somebody among Brown, Hill, Pat Connaughton and even probably Tony Snell will work because the extra perimeter guy in those non-Lopez lineups. The collective efficiency of that neighborhood will likely be a swing component.
Lopez is greater than all of those guys. Any upgrade in fit gained’t be sufficient to atone for the talent descend-off. (That’s the reason we could well furthermore look Budenholzer dabble with a substantial-vast trio of Mirotic, Antetokounmpo and Lopez in opposition to Boston’s bigger lineups — on the least while Brogdon is out. Play your finest guys.)
If Boston hides Irving on defense, that is also on the Brown/Hill/Connaughton/Snell neighborhood. Maybe Boston gained’t conceal him at all. The Celtics luxuriate in no longer feared the Irving-Bledsoe matchup, and Bledsoe disintegrated in opposition to them closing season. (The set you at, Scary Terry?) But with Milwaukee beginning Brown, the likelihood is there.
The Bucks will target Irving anyway. That is Milwaukee’s easiest counter if Horford bothers Antetokounmpo’s one-on-one sport. The Bucks can dash Irving’s guy into both facet of a settle on-and-roll with Antetokounmpo. Switch, and Irving is toast. Blueprint the leisure — preserve dwelling, hunch beneath, aid-and-obtain greater — and likewise you’d greater elevate out it without leaving a sliver of airspace for Antetokounmpo.
(Certain, that play involves Orderly. That is the purpose: Milwaukee must — and without doubt will — hunch extra at Irving.)
The expend of Antetokounmpo as a screener is the finest antidote (if Milwaukee wants one) to Horford lying in preserve up for his drives. It will take Boston off guard. It triggers the rotations Boston wants to preserve some distance from. The Celtics can dip below monitors when Antetokounmpo is working settle on-and-roll, however no longer when he’s the one setting picks:
The Bucks can transfer that identical realizing off the ball — and divulge it at Irving:
I preserve coming lend a hand to this: The Bucks can play Antetokounmpo 42 (or extra) of forty eight minutes in the occasion that they’ve to. He can overpower any Celtic apart from Horford. Antetokounmpo has reached LeBron territory: Guys who behold love they must be ready to “put Antetokounmpo compose it” are if truth be told correct roadkill.
Brown, Tatum, Hayward, Orderly, Ojeleye and Morris every has the vague outlines of someone who “can guard” Antetokounmpo. They’ll all obtain chances. On some possessions, when cases are moral, they’ll stand him up: when the Bucks obtain Antetokounmpo the ball too late in the shot clock, or in unlucky set of abode, or when Boston can send the requisite aid.
But leave any of them alone in opposition to Antetokounmpo time and one more time, and he goes to expend them alive. Send urgent aid — extra urgent than Horford requires — and someone is getting an originate three-pointer.
I’m also cautious of declaring the quickly, bickering Celtics luxuriate in grew to turn true into a nook. They scored 103.7 parts per a hundred possessions in opposition to Indiana — 12th among playoff groups, and a worth that will luxuriate in ranked closing in the customary season. Hayward has regarded bouncier and additional assured, however these items make no longer constantly unfold alongside a continuous upward trajectory. Tatum and Brown could well furthermore dart one more time.
Against elite defenses, it’s essential to to well well like some threshold of free throws and rim assaults to subsist. Will Boston obtain sufficient?
Every time these Celtics slumped — every time they faced staunch adversity — they teetered on the sting. It took them time to ranking their bearings.
They make no longer luxuriate in time anymore. They make no longer luxuriate in the finest participant, or dwelling court in a theoretical Sport 7. They’ve some staunch matchup advantages — sufficient that I came shut to calling Celtics in six or seven.
But in the hand over, I belief Milwaukee’s consistent physique of work extra than Boston’s latest correct vibes and edge in postseason experience.
Bucks in seven.