After a rousing 112-90 victory on the road in Game 1, the Celtics stand on higher ground for the rest of the series as they have stolen home court advantage. Top to bottom it was a clinic by the Celtics on both ends and Coach Stevens has this machine humming at the right time of year. After the game, noted sayer of words Paul Pierce declared the series to be over. Now buddy let me tell you, especially coming from Pierce, the people did NOT like this one bit.
While his whole “this series is over” comment is a bit outlandish after one game, his reasoning behind it has merit. His point was that he foresees the Celtics simply out-talenting the Bucks and that he doesn’t see how that will change. Now think about it, who do the Bucks really have besides Giannis to produce on the offensive end? Sure, Khris Middleton kills the Celtics historically (this is the fellow who shot 61% from three last year in the first round and resembled Ghost Rider), but even he turned in 16/10/6 yesterday and it didn’t matter. After that, looking down the line and seeing the likes of Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Sterling Brown and Co. doesn’t really instill much confidence. Take a guess at what those three shot from the field combined yesterday. I’ll give you a hint…it’s bad…putrid even. 3-17 (17.6%) is the figure and honestly I thought it might have been lower after watching that assault yesterday. This whole supporting cast around Giannis leaves a lot to be desired against a team as deep as Boston. They get into situations frequently where they’re subbing out Middleton for Pat Connaughton/Ilyasova while the Celtics are able to replace Tatum/Brown with Gordon Hayward or something of that nature. There’s such a discrepancy in talent there and it showed tenfold yesterday afternoon.
This is where the absence of Malcolm Brogdon really puts the Bucks in a bind on offense. He had the only 50-40-90 season in team history and he gives them the shooter that they desperately need. The Celtics are playing Giannis by switching everything, forcing him outside, and then converging on him with multiple bodies if he gets into the paint. Giannis didn’t do himself any favors either as he regularly tried to drive through double teams and was forced into some tough looks around the rim. The video below gives a nice recap of their defense and you can see what I’m talking about.
Next game however, after making some adjustments, I foresee more kick-outs to shooters than we saw in Game 1. This is exactly where Brogdon would fit in perfectly as a sizable upgrade over Sterling Brown at the off-guard position. Unfortunately enough for Milwaukee (and fortunately enough for the Celtics), he isn’t set to return until at earliest Game 3. In the interim, somebody has to step up *glares at Eric Bledsoe in disgust* and be the one to hit these big shots or they could easily head back to Boston down 0-2 in the series.
Remember how effective the Kyrie Irving/Al Horford pick and roll/pop was during the season? It’s all the way back for the playoffs and the triumvirate of Giannis, Brook Lopez, and Ersan Ilyasova showed that they had absolutely no idea how to defend it. I don’t like dragging guys through the mud but if Brook Lopez is going to play Al as if he’s Dwight Howard they’re going to have some serious issues going forward. Like c’mon…He might as well not even be on the screen.
Al ranked 5th in the NBA during the regular season in points per game as the roll man at 4.6 and so far in the postseason has averaged 3.8. He’s also shooting 54% in 5 games this postseason in these situations. It’s something the Celtics love to do and Al thrives off of being the roll/pop man as he’s able either to space out and score, let Kyrie do his thing, or fire a pass to a cutter. It puts guys like Lopez who are used to protecting the rim in a tough position and the Celtics exploited that yesterday.
I imagine Stevens is going to continue this sort of action on offense. Even when Kyrie/Al aren’t on the floor, Gordon Hayward is able to run it either as the ball handler OR the roll/pop man which gives the Celtics even more versatility on offense. The Celtics depth also is at their advantage on the defensive end. Every single player in the Celtics’ rotation can switch and cover 2-3 different positions. They’re able to switch on Giannis (they basically pass him off to the next guy if he gets a step) and by communicating effectively they’ve done a fantastic job at getting to open shooters and closing the airspace.
While I’m not cosigning what Pierce said in regards to the series being over, I’d recommend to the Bucks that they treat this Game 2 as a Game 7. For a team who’s only playoff round win in the recent past was against a crippled Detroit Pistons team, going into TD Garden down 2-0 is not ideal. TD Garden will be rocking and the Celtics feed off of the crowd more than any team in basketball. 1-0 isn’t a death sentence by any means but all I’m saying is, do not let the Celtics win this Game 2. I repeat…
DO NOT let the Celtics win Game 2.