NBA Playoffs: Four Thoughts on Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks

After a wild final few weeks, the matchups of the 2018 NBA Playoffs are complete. The Boston Celtics are set to face-off against the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks. Game one kicks-off this Sunday at one o’clock. Here are four thoughts heading into this matchup:

Can Boston Overcome Their Injuries?

It’s hard to believe the Celtics stayed afloat after they lost three of their five best players — Irving, Hayward, and Smart — to injury.

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Smart is set to return on the 27th, penciling him in for game seven return. Smart’s absence won’t grab main-steam headlines, but he brings an unquantifiable amount of value on a nightly basis — especially in close games. Although it’s become a cliche with Smart, he constantly makes winning plays whether that involves grabbing a loose ball, securing an offensive board, or drawing an offensive foul like he did against James Harden (twice!):

It’s not impossible for the Boston Celtics to continue their relative success into the second round, but it’ll be a tougher task. Rotations get smaller, defense gets tighter and more matchup-centric game planning occurs.

This is why having a star matters so much in the spring. Irving is one of the most effective postseason players in the NBA, and Boston was banking on his clutch performances to lead them to the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond.

Unfortunately, he won’t be there, and someone has to step up in these NBA Playoffs.

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This Could Be The Greek Freak’s Coming Out Party

Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Every few seasons a young and unproven team — usually led by an up-and-coming star — exceeds expectations in the NBA Playoffs. Think of the 2013 Warriors, 2011 Oklahoma City Thunder or the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007. The Bucks could fall into that category.

Although Giannis is more than just an up-and-coming star, he is due for a deep run in the NBA Playoffs. It’s no secret that stars matter more in the playoffs, and some would argue it’s the only thing that matters.

Facing a beaten-up Boston team in round one, while also avoiding both the Toronto Raptors and Cavaliers until the conference finals was a lucky draw.

If the Milwaukee Bucks can gain some momentum and get out of the first round, an Eastern Conference Finals appearance isn’t out of the question.

Tale of Two Coaching Staffs

The Milwaukee Bucks have had a disappointing coaching season, to say the least.

There was initial unhappiness with the performance of former-head coach Jason Kidd. After the Bucks fired Kidd on January 22nd, the team played marginally better. However, not too much has changed, at least in terms of output.

Bucks head coach Joe Prunty talks to center John Henson, Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee has gone 22-16 since they brought in interim coach Joe Prunty, in comparison to 22-23 with Kidd. Their net rating has improved slightly — going from -0.7 to 2.1 — but the Milwaukee Bucks are still missing any coaching and stylistic edge.

Prunty has moved away from Kidd’s defensive style, which was centered around pressuring and trapping the ball. They have been a better defensive team because of it, but only to an extent.

Opposite of the Milwaukee Bucks and Joe Prunty is Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. The favorite to win coach of the year has impressed everyone with his ability to maximize the talent around him. It seemed that through every injury on the roster, whether it be season-ending or just a small tweak, Boston never missed a beat.

After their injury luck hit rock-bottom in mid-March, the Celtics went on a six-game winning streak. “The President” has proven his effectiveness in the regular season, but his playoff resume is not as solid. His 2-3 record in the playoffs is a little shaky. Especially for someone dubbed the best coach in the league after Gregg Popovich.

Although two of those losses came against LeBron and the Cavaliers — which gives him somewhat of a pass — Stevens didn’t blow anyone away with his coaching performances against the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards in 2017.

Last season, Boston fell behind — losing two games at home — to a weak Bulls team, and Stevens got outcoached through the first two games. Everything Boston attempted to do, Chicago’s head coach Fred Hoiberg had a subsequent response. Deciding to start forward Gerald Green ultimately turned the series around for the Celtics. Nevertheless, it was a shaky start for the 41-year-old head coach.

With a depleted roster, this will be a great chance to see how far Stevens coaching prowess can take the Boston Celtics.

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How Will The Celtics’ Young Players Perform?

Since Irving went down in March, the Boston Celtics primary scorers have been Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. Although they’ve all been promising, rookies tend to underachieve in the playoffs. The bright lights become brighter in April, May, and June. When coaches start utilizing player-centric game planning the task becomes even tougher.

Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Rozier and Brown gained some valuable playoff experience last season, but their roles now are completely different. The Celtics expect both to do more offensively. Specifically when it comes to creating their own shot and playmaking for others.

Jayson Tatum will have an even tougher time adjusting. The recently turned 20-year-old already has numerous go-to moves and is the most polished offensive player of these three.

In saying that, it’s hard to predict how effective he’ll be in this years NBA Playoffs. It’s no knock on Tatum — not many rookies can carry the main offensive workload — but it is a knock on the Celtics’ chance at having an effective offense.

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