February 21, 2024

The first second-round series in the Eastern Conference is set, and will feature the red-hot Boston Celtics against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. Game 1 of the series will tip-off on Sunday afternoon in Boston. 

Heading into the playoffs, the Celtics’ first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets was the most anticipated series, and widely expected to go six or seven games. Instead, it ended up being the only first-round sweep, as the Celtics stifled Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and won four close games.

As for the Bucks, they slipped up in Game 2 of their first-round series with the Chicago Bulls, but cruised from there. They won each of the last three games by double digits en route to a 4-1 series victory. It wasn’t all good news for the Bucks, however, as Khris Middleton went down with an MCL sprain and will not play in the second round.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Celtics vs. Bucks:

Boston Celtics (2) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (3)

  • Game 1 (at BOS): Sunday, April 30 | 1 p.m. ET | TV: ABC
  • Game 2 (at BOS): Tuesday, May 3 | TBD | TV: TNT
  • Game 3 (at MIL): Saturday, May 7 | TBD | TV: ABC
  • Game 4 (at MIL): Monday, May 9 | TBD | TV: TNT
  • Game 5* (at BOS): Wednesday, May 11 | TBD | TV: TNT
  • Game 6* (at MIL): Friday, May 13 | TBD | TV: ESPN
  • Game 7* (at BOS): Sunday, May 15 | TBD | TV: TBD

*If necessary

Featured Game | Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Middleton’s injury a major factor

In Game 2 against the Bulls, Khris Middleton slipped on a wet spot and suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain. He didn’t play in the remainder of the first round, and is now expected to miss the entire second round as well. The three-time All-Star is a major loss for the Bucks, and his absence will be felt on both sides of the ball. 

First and foremost, Middleton was one of the Bucks’ primary offensive options this season at 20.1 points and 5.4 assists per game. Losing that raw production is bad, but it’s possible for other players to step up, as we saw in the first round. What the Bucks won’t be able to replace is Middleton’s ability to create and make tough shots in isolation. That’s a major problem against the Celtics’ dogged switch-everything defense that often takes away initial actions and forces opponents to go one-on-one. Middleton was one of the few players on the Bucks who could consistently get a decent look in those situations, and now he won’t be out there. 

Middleton’s injury will be felt most on the offensive end, but it also figures to make things more difficult for the Bucks on defense. While he isn’t their best defender — good luck earning that honor on a team with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday — he’s no slouch. More importantly, he’s their biggest wing defender and not having him will leave the Bucks in real trouble against a team with two of the best wing scorers in the league in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. 

Can the Celtics slow Giannis like they did Durant?

Perhaps the biggest story from the first round was the way the Celtics’ defense made Kevin Durant look pedestrian. The Celtics’ constant physicality, length and athleticism had Durant so out of sorts that in Game 3 he only took 11 shots and turned the ball over five times. 

Coming into the second round, one of the biggest questions is whether the Celtics will be able to slow Giannis down in the same way. The short answer is probably not. For one, Giannis is in the middle of his prime and is one of the strongest, most athletically gifted players in the league. He won’t be as bothered by the Celtics’ physicality as Durant. If anything, Giannis will be willing to dish it out the other way. Plus, in concert with his incredible skills, he’s shown an unmatched level of self belief and determination over the past few seasons. 

That being said, the Celtics are the team best equipped to deal with him. Al Horford will likely be the primary defender, and even late in his career he’s still a mobile and savvy big man. On the backside, the Celtics have an elite shot-blocker in Robert Williams, who is now healthy after returning from meniscus surgery. And on the wings they have Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, all of whom are long and athletic, and will be able to help build a wall and clog up driving lanes. 

All of that still may not end up being enough. But at the very least, the Celtics have the formula to make things difficult for Giannis, and that’s really all you can ask for against a future Hall of Famer. 

A rivalry renewed

When the Bucks first entered the league, they were in the Western Conference, and the first time these two franchises met in the playoffs was the 1974 Finals, which the Celtics won in seven games. That thrilling series featured two overtime games and one of the most famous shots of all time — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s game-winning long-range sky hook in the closing seconds of double-overtime in Game 6. It also turned out to be the just the beginning of a storied postseason history between the clubs. 

Once the Bucks moved to the Eastern Conference in 1981, they started seeing each other regularly. In fact, from 1983-87, they met in the playoffs four out of five seasons. The Celtics won three of those series, but the Bucks did sweep them in the second round in 1983, which is still one of just four sweeps the Celtics have suffered in seven-game series. 

Both teams fell on hard times at various points in the ensuing decades, but in recent years have become staples of the East playoff picture. It took 31 years for them to meet again in the playoffs, but in 2018 they squared off in the first round, with the Celtics winning in seven games. They ran it back in the second round in 2019, with the Bucks taking that series in five. Now, they’ll meet again for the third time in five seasons. 

With both teams looking like potential title contenders, this will be the most significant matchup of the new phase of this rivalry. 

Source link