The Boston Celtics will face the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Let’s see how the two teams match up.
When the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks met in the regular season just ten days ago, Kadeem Allen started at point guard. Even some of the most devoted fans had to do some research on the Celtics point guard before the game. And it was research that no one would expect to perform back in October.
When Boston started its season, they had 5 point guards on the roster: Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin, and Kadeem Allen. I’m sure if you told any fan, or even Kadeem himself, that he would be starting a game in April for the Celtics, you would have been called crazy.
Even if Kyrie went out, there was still Marcus Smart. Even if Smart went out, there was Terry Rozier. Then if all three were injured, Shane Larkin would fill in. But on April 3, all four were injured so Kadeem Allen took their spot.
Injuries, injuries, and more injuries
And it wasn’t just the point guards under the weather because of the injury bug. Everyone remembers Gordon Hayward’s season ending ankle injury that is keeping him out of this year’s playoffs. Daniel Theis, a key role player off the bench, is out for the year with a torn meniscus. Along with a bunch of minor injuries, nearly everybody on the roster is banged up. What kind of Tribal Indian Curse did the Celtics get from the Injury God?
The Celtics-Bucks first round series will be heavily determined by these injuries. Milwaukee walks into the postseason literally scot free. They got Jabari Parker back midseason and then Malcolm Brogdon returned just a few days ago. In terms of depth, they have the key advantage. However, the entire series could come down to one question: Would you rather have Joe Prunty and a completely healthy Bucks team or Brad Stevens with a Kyrie-less, Hayward-less Celtics team.
Roster vs. roster
First, let’s just look at the rosters. The Bucks will probably start a lineup of Eric Bledsoe-Tony Snell-Khris Middleton-Giannis Antetokounmpo-John Henson. The Celtics will counter with Terry Rozier-Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown-Al Horford-Aron Baynes.
Offensively, the Bucks have potential. Al Horford had some success guarding Giannis, but he should pretty much get what he wants. Eric Bledsoe ended the season on a high note and could be disruptive on both sides if he decides to play defense. Khris Middleton has the potential to be an X-factor simply by making a bunch of shots in a row. Tony Snell dropped off compared to last season, but he still needs to monitored from three. Add in Jabari Parker and Brogdon off the bench and they could put up points every game.
In their offense, the Celtics will need to make threes and in turn move the Bucks defense to have success. All year, Milwaukee has been the opposite of scary on the defensive end. For a team with plenty of length, they play awful team defense . However, if the Celtics get stagnant, Giannis has the ability to defend any late-in-the-shot-clock drives or threes. But if Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum hit from the perimeter things should start to get moving and easy shots should be there. Off the bench, watch out for some Greg Monroe revenge and Marcus Morris to keep scoring.
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Based off talent alone, the Bucks get a slight edge because they have the best player in the series by far. Without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the drop off from the Greek Freak to Al Horford is significant.
A coaching disadvantage
Now, back to the question of coaching, that drop off is even more significant. Brad Stevens is a Coach of the Year candidate, Joe Prunty is an interim head coach with no previous head coaching experience. Even more, since Prunty took over on January 22, Milwaukee went 21-16. They outscored opponents by 1.2 PPG, but were outrebounded, out assisted, and nearly turned the ball over more. Against current playoff teams, they went 6-9. Nothing jumps out at you there.
Against tougher opponents, the Celtics went 21-14, outscored teams by 3 points and held the rebounding, assist, and turnover advantage. Against playoff teams, they went 7-11.
I think the verdict is clear: Brad Stevens over Joe Prunty is slightly more important than the Bucks roster being better than the Celtics’ (and the rosters are even closer than you think). If just Kyrie Irving were playing, this could be a borderline sweep. If Gordon Hayward never got hurt, this series would be a breeze.
Well, now I’m sad again. Instead of an easy victory, this one is probably going 6 or 7 games. I’ll take the Celtics in 6. I just wish I could say it a little more confidently.