The Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics are set to square off one last time tonight at the TD Garden, it what is the pinnacle of NBA playoff basketball. Game 7.
Milwaukee were able to hold off a Celtics last quarter rally, on the back of 12 fourth quarter points for Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 6. In what still may be the last ever NBA game in the Bradley Center pending tonights result, the Bucks left the arena victorious, and forced their first Game 7 since 2010 against Atlanta.
Home court has been the decider in all six games so far, leaving the Celtics slight favourites heading in. Looking back, the Bucks would feel they potentially should have won Game 1 after forcing overtime, and Game 5 if they could have simply knocked down a shot or two. Fortunately they get one more crack at a post season road win as Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers wait at home for their next opponent.
Antetokounmpo responded to any critic suggesting he wasn’t aggressive enough in Game 5, by getting up 23 shots and finishing with 31 points and 14 rebounds. He was the dominant force on the floor and took over down the stretch to turn a 80-78 advantage with 7:13 left into a 97-86 victory.
For Boston, Terry Rozier loomed as the danger player earlier, scoring 11 first quarter points and helping the Celtics run up a nine point lead at one point. With his very public battle with Eric Bledsoe still in the fore front of the publics minds, Rozier continues to have his way with Bledsoe. Boston cooled off overall after the first quarter to finish shooting just 27 percent from deep, Rozier himself going 4-for-12.
The Bucks made a lineup adjustment for Game 6, as Thon Maker was inserted into the starting lineup to replace Tyler Zeller. John Henson did not get up for the fourth straight game but did board the flight back to Boston and remains some chance to return tonight. IF Henson is to play for the first time since Game 2, it will be interesting to see if he starts, and what type of minutes they give him with Maker having been so influential as the series has rolled on.
This first round series is evenly keeled at 3-3 right now, the overall season series is at 5-5. The Bucks started their 2018 NBA campaign in Boston on October 17th. They are now in danger of ending their season in the same building 162 days later. Or do Giannis and friends have a greater story to tell in this post season?
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Role players lifting the Boston lid: It’s been a series determined on home court, we know that, but for the Bucks, Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton have showed up in every game. Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell and Thon Maker on the other hand have not been able to get it going in Boston. Those four have combined for 53 points in the Bucks losses, whilst in the wins, they have poured in 114. They’ve been great at home, but the work has been left to far too few in Boston. That needs to change tonight.
- Eric Bledsoe: It’s been a puzzling series for Bledsoe, who was outstanding in the final few months of the regular season. Coming into the series you felt that he was one of the key reasons why the Bucks would overmatch Boston in seven games. Thus far, he has been a non factor and the Bucks are suffering. Bledsoe is averaging just 12 points per game on 39 percent shooting from the field, well down on his 17.8 points on 48 percent shooting over the very large 71 game sample size of the regular season. It’s been a shocking drop off through six games, but all can be forgiven if he can find a way to contribute tonight.
- Stingy defense: Overall, the Bucks have done a sensational job defending the ball over the last four games. They allowed Boston to score an average of 116.5 points per game in the first two losses, but since, have held them to a meagre 93 points. They are regularly able to hold Boston to late shot clock situations, and as a result the Celtics are having a hard time getting good looks. Certainly a factor in this has been Boston often settling to play isolation offense, which is essentially the anti Brad Stevens system, with Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart are two key culprits in that regard. Nonetheless, the insertion of Thon Maker into the series, with Giannis and the return to sensational defense of Middleton has allowed the Bucks to stay in, and win games when things aren’t going perfectly for them down the other end. This needs to be the case once more.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus