The 2018 regular season is done and dusted. What ever you think you learnt throughout the 82 game long grind can be thrown out the window. Because over the course of the next two weeks, the first team to four wins moves on, the other goes home. It all starts this afternoon at Boston’s TD Garden in game one.
Milwaukee ‘lucked’ into the East’s seventh seed by virtue of getting completely obliterated by the white hot Philadelphia 76ers. A 28 point deficit heading into the first break took all heat out of the game, as the Bucks fate was quickly placed in the hands of the Miami Heat and Washington Wizards, playing at the same time. The results came in, and the Bucks drew the undermanned Celtics.
The regular season series between the two sides finished at two a piece, with each team splitting their two home contests. The Bucks are heavily backed to win the series, partly due to the extraordinary talents of Giannis Antetokounmpo, but largely due to the bevy of injuries that have attempted to derail Boston’s 55 win season from opening night.
Star free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward went down in the first six minutes of the season with a fractured left ankle. Kyrie Irving battled knee issues all season, before finally succumbing on the eve of the playoffs. Role players Marcus Smart (thumb) and Daniel Theiss (knee) are both unlikely to make an appearance in the post-season. It’s been a horror run for a squad that had strong hopes of making it though the East this season. In comparison, the Bucks are finally healthy, for the first time in years at the very right time. Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova returned over the final two games to give the Bucks their entire roster to choose from for the first time this season in game 82. Perfect.
In the absence of Hayward and Irving, it has been second year man Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum that have stepped up all year, averaging 28.4 points and 10.4 rebounds combined over the regular season. Both athletic wings can take the ball to the rim but as with the majority of modern NBA players, can stretch the floor beyond the three-point arc, with both connecting on greater than 39 percent of their three-point tries.
In reaching the post-season for the second consecutive year, the Bucks have begun to form a nucleus that has been in this moment before. It will be the third playoff appearance for Giannis, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, though this afternoon will be the first ever playoff game for fourth year Bucks, Jabari Parker. After missing the 2015 and 17 playoffs with his ACL injuries, Parker will finally get his opportunity on the big stage.
The Bucks, laden with talent, have been somewhat of a disappointment this season. But as mentioned earlier, the regular season is done and dusted, it’s a fresh start. A clean slate. Milwaukee get a chance to go on the road and steal home court advantage back in their favour. Tip off is at 12 CST on TNT.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Stay in the contest early: The parochial Philadelphia crowd came ready to explode Wednesday night and it’s fair to say the Bucks didn’t handle it well at all. Today will be no different in Boston, with a crowd used to success ready to get behind their squad. Since the All-Star break the Bucks have been terrible in first quarters. Since the mid season break, the Bucks hold a defensive rating of 113.9 and a net rating of -7.9 in first quarters. Talk about giving your opponent a leg up. This is playoff basketball, if the Bucks let the Celtics get on top early, it could make for a long afternoon.
- Giannis, Giannis, Giannis: No surprises here. They key to the Bucks success in the playoffs will be Giannis breaking loose. Across the four game series with Boston, Giannis is averaging 33.5 points and 10.8 rebounds this season. The Celtics have at times forced him to the perimeter, with Antetokounmpo being ‘held’ to 24-for-45 shooting in the two losses. Boston possessed the leagues number one defense over the course of the season, and their ability to slow down Giannis will prove pivotal today.
- The battle of the big men: Though undermanned, an area where Boston appear to have the edge on paper is at center. Aron Baynes, Greg Monroe and Al Horford will all rotate through the center position against John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Thon Maker. The Bucks finished the season last in rebounds per game, and have consistently had issues with slowing down teams scoring in the paint. Horford is a multiple time all-star, Monroe is as talented as any big man in the post, and Baynes is coming off a career high 26 point night in the regular season finale. The Milwaukee big men have largely been outmatched this season, they need to get on top early in this series for Milwaukee to control the paint.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus