Throughout the playoffs, we’ll be doing series previews for each and every matchup. For more in-depth analysis, check out our Eastern and Western Conference Preview Articles, which covered the conferences at-large. Find all of our NBA playoff content here and on Twitter (@GamblingPodcast and @NBAZachB).
Series Prices and Game 1 Line
Milwaukee Bucks +145 vs. Boston Celtics -170.
G1: MIL @ BOS (-4), O/U 201.5, +150/-180.
Regular Season H2H (Split)
10/18/17: Milwaukee 108, Boston (-1.5) 100. Over 203.5.
10/26/17: Boston 96, Milwaukee (-4.5) 89. Under 206.5.
12/4/17: Milwaukee 100, Boston (-4.5) 111. Over 203.
4/3/17: Boston 102, Milwaukee (-4.5) 106. Over 204.
Facts and Figures
Boston Celtics (#2)
- 55-27 Overall. 50-30-2 ATS. 42-37-3 O/U.
- Leading Scorer: Jaylen Brown, 14.5 PPG.
- Best Stats: 11.5 3-PT/Gm (#7), 101.5 Def Rtg (#1), 33.9% Opp. 3-PT (#1).
- Worst Stats: 39.8 Pts in the Paint/Gm (#29), 22.5 AST/Gm (#20).
- Notable Injuries: Kyrie Irving, Knee – Out for season. Gordon Hayward, Leg – Out for season. Marcus Smart, Thumb – Out for game 1 and targeting a late April return. Daniel Theis, Knee – Out for season.
Milwaukee Bucks (#7)
- 44-38 Overall. 33-44-5 ATS. 47-35 O/U.
- Leading Scorer: Giannis Antetokounmpo, 26.9 PPG.
- Best Stats: 47.8% FG (#3), 8.8 STL/Gm (#2), 10.1 Opp. Fastbreak Pts/Gm (#3)
- Worst Stats: -0.3 Scoring Margin/Gm (#20) 47.2 REB/Gm (#30) 8.8 3-PT/Gm (#27)
- Notable Injuries: None.
Key Overall Matchup
Boston’s guard play going up against an aggressive defense.
No knock on the dude, but Boston will be rolling out Terry Rozier as its starting point guard in a playoff series. Shane Larkin will likely be serving as his backup. While the two have played well this season and are, by no means, strangers to major minutes in the NBA, they lack playoff experience and the elite talent profile that is typically characteristic of good guard play in the playoffs.
While Coach Stevens has done his best all year long to maximize the efficiency and game management of his guards, Rozier, in particular, loves to take tough shots off the dribble for which he should just not have the green light. Against Milwaukee’s inconsistent yet aggressive defensive scheme, Boston’s guards need to both hold their own in the box score and manage the game for 48 minutes.
Milwaukee’s defense is nothing special, but it is opportunistic and loves to force turnovers. They steal the ball as well as anyone else in the league, averaging 8.8 per game. With Bledsoe, Middleton, Brogdon, and Giannis, they have a multitude of guys who can pressure ball-handlers and use their length to get their hands on the ball. Even if beaten off the dribble, however, the Bucks block 6.5% of their opponents’ field goal attempts, an elite mark at fourth in the league. Boston will have to be prepared to either finish with a hammer (Brown and Tatum) or land on two feet in the paint and go up to get fouled. In what will likely be a low-scoring series, Boston cannot afford to waste possessions.
For Boston, Milwaukee’s penchant for forcing turnovers has to be a bit worrisome. Milwaukee forces 15.6 per game, the second-best mark in the league. While Boston isn’t necessarily a turnover-prone team, the pressure of the playoff moment in combination with Boston’s lack of a go-to guy (in the absence of Hayward and Irving) will mean long possessions where it’s unclear who will be the shooter. Though Boston moves the ball rather well, I’m not sure kicking the ball around the perimeter aimlessly is a good idea against Milwaukee’s ridiculous length.
Turning the ball over in this series will be especially killer because of Giannis’ ability to get out in transition and dominate the game in the open floor. Thus, every dribble must be protected and every pass carefully materialized. Milwaukee is not a great half-court team defensively, so they will be looking to pounce on mistakes instead of defending for the full 24-second shot clock.
Key Individual Matchup
Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Tatum & Brown.
Milwaukee will have the best player on the floor in this series. Boston probably has the better team, definitely has the better coach, and deserves to be the favorite. But for those basketball fans (of which I am certainly not one) who think that “talent always wins,” the Greek Freak will be far and away the most talented guy in this series. It is the rare playoff matchup with only one total superstar on either team, and Boston doesn’t have anyone whose ceiling-level performance can come close to that of Giannis.
The question becomes, then, whether or not Boston can mitigate Giannis’ dominance with solid play from both of its wings, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, on both ends of the floor. Brown and Tatum combined this season for over 28 points per game, a combined total that is higher than Giannis’ on his own. If Tatum and Brown can, as a pair, simply cancel out the matchup against Giannis, the Celtics should be in pretty good shape.
Boston’s young wings, however, cannot be taking turns in hero-ball isolation. That destroys their theoretical 2-on-1 advantage into a simplified 1-on-1 game. Brown and Tatum need to be locked into together, both simultaneously looking to be the primary scoring option without stopping the movement of the ball and freezing out the other.
On the other end of the floor, Boston will likely throw a ton of bodies at Giannis, starting with Tatum and Brown but also switching things up with Horford and Marcus Morris. Whoever it is, Boston will have to keep Giannis out of the lane and prevent him from easy looks. Giannis is elite offensively but he’s not necessarily a tough shot-maker; he’s special because of his unique ability to stride to open spots on the floor for good looks, not because he makes shots from tough spots.
Milwaukee is 8-23-4 ATS as a home favorite. Boston is 11-5 ATS as a road dog.
Milwaukee is 9-19 SU as a road dog.
Boston is 38-16 SU after a win.
The over is 20-13 when Boston is a home favorite.
Milwaukee wins if…
Giannis is special; they shoot closer to 40% from three than 30%; they force turnovers and get out in transition; Bledsoe dominates Rozier.
Boston wins if…
Brad Stevens dominates the coaching matchup, as he should; Tatum and Brown collectively play Giannis to a stalemate; Rozier plays within himself; they get games to the fourth quarter where Stevens and their toughness will be advantages.
Celtics in 6.