The Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics meet for the third time this season with the series locked at 1-1. The Bucks opened up their season with a 108-100 road win at the TD Garden in Boston on October 18th. Just nine days later, Boston spoiled Milwaukee’s return to the MECCA by claiming a 96-89 win in a game that didn’t really feel that close.
The Bucks should come into this one full of confidence after winning three in a row and eight of their last eleven games since acquiring Eric Bledsoe. In what was one of the more lacklustre wins in recent memory, the Bucks held on to beat the Kings Saturday night, 109-104. The Bucks raced out to a 14-0 lead early, Giannis Antetokounmpo living at the free throw line, going 5-8 in that stretch. From that point on the very sparse Saturday night crowd (likely due to the Wisconsin Badgers football game on at the same time) remained mostly hushed as the Bucks seemingly had it in cruise control.
On a Giannis made layup with 4:32 left in the third quarter, the Bucks took a commanding 82-62 lead and it appeared likely that the starters would get an early rest. Unfortunately the Bucks may have put the cue in the rack, because from that point on, the Kings gradually chipped away at the lead and incredibly with 1:42 left in the game cut the lead to one point on two made Bogdan Bogdanovic free throws. From there the Bucks steadied and closed it out at the line, thankfully.
Thats about all the analysis that game needs. Lets move on to tonights huge contest.
After starting the season 0-2, the Boston Celtics had won their last two before coming to Milwaukee to grace the MECCA floor. They comprehensively stifled the Bucks, holding them to 89 points and winning their third in a row. I was lucky enough to be there that night and although the Bucks were handled, I didn’t envisage what was coming for Boston. The Celtics winning streak extended to 16 games before finally falling to the Miami Heat. Now 20-4, they find themselves already a healthy 3.5 games ahead of the nearest rival in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Celtics get it done on the defensive end. They are currently the only team in the NBA with a defensive rating under 100, sitting at 98.4. They are impressively managing this without marquee free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward, who is out for the season, a debut season in Boston that lasted only 6 minutes.
Stepping up in Hayward’s absence is veteran big man, Al Horford. Big Al is averaging 13.9 points, 8 rebounds and an impressive 5.1 assists through the first quarter of the season. A huge key to his importance to the Celtics is his absolutely lights out shooting from beyond the arc, where he is knocking down 44% of his attempts. Commanding the oppositions respect on the outside and opening up the paint for Boston slashers, namely Kyrie Irving.
On top of Horford, the Celtics posses one of the leagues most, if not the most dynamic young wing duos in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The sophomore Brown and rookie Tatum are both logging 13+ points and 5+ rebounds while possessing the ability to knock down the three point shot at a lethal clip, both shooting above 40% from deep.
The list goes on and on with Boston, they have a multitude of players that have the ability to play a key role on any given night. Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, all capable of taking over a game offensively.
Oh yeah, and theres also a guy named Kyrie Irving that the Bucks might want to keep an eye out for.
For the Bucks though, this brings a new challenge to a team hoping they have turned the corner. After a rocky start to their west coast road trip, the Bucks have now won three in a row in very assertive fashion, bar a last quarter slip up against Sacramento. The Bucks new ‘big three’, in Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Giannis appear to be figuring out the nuances to each other’s game on offense with devastating effect. The last two contests the trio have averaged 74 points a game, 69.8% of the Bucks total points.
A huge takeaway from the last game though was the controlled aggressiveness of Malcolm Brogdon. Out of all the players on the roster, Brogdon by far had to adjust his role within the team the most. He was relegated to the bench, and whilst he still is topping 30 minutes per game, he often finds himself playing off the ball more then he would be used to, sometimes becoming lost in the offense. Against the Kings Brogdon took control in the third quarter, relentlessly getting to the rim in his typically smooth but bruising style. Brogdon finished with 13 points and 5 assists, but more then that, it hopefully signified the moment he found his aggressive side.
At the MECCA, Milwaukee were forced into 17 turnovers and a horrifically stagnant offense that couldn’t get any flow or rhythm. Giannis in particular found the going tough, finishing 10-21 from the field and that was inflated by a couple of junk time triples. After the opening loss to the Bucks, Brad Stevens adjusted. He packed the paint and gave Giannis no room to move. Khris was still in a horrific early season slump, and the Bucks were still rolling out a three man center lineup. The key change since that night is the addition of Bledsoe. Brogdon gallantly defended Kyrie that night but at times was dazzled by Irving’s ridiculous handles. Bledsoe and his quick hands stand to take on the significant challenge of marking Irving in this one.
Hopefully, Jason Kidd and the Bucks took something from the loss in Milwaukee. When you play the Celtics it’s not just the opposition on the court you need to be worried about, it’s the brains on the sideline. A key for Milwaukee will be knocking down shots from the outside. If Bledsoe, Middleton, Brogdon and Thon Maker can command respect from beyond the arc then it should create space for Giannis to go to work in the paint.
With the Celtics already 6.5 games ahead in the standings, the season series may already be irrelevant. But this game should mean a lot to the Bucks. A second win against Boston sends a message to the rest of the Eastern Conference that the Bucks are coming. A loss simply leaves them in the middle of the pack.
There is a lot on the line tonight.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus