Here’s what I want to make sure no Celtics fan does today. Do not underestimate the Milwaukee Bucks. Don’t even let the thought cross your mind. Not only are they off to a great start at 7-0, have beaten TOR which you could not, but only 19 teams in the last near 30 years have started this well. They approach this season with different expectations, a new system and a chemistry that has made them one of the most dangerous teams in the conference up until this point. With the news that Giannis is good to go tonight, they absolutely could walk into TD Garden and wax the floor with the Celtics if they choose to overlook them or play like assholes, two things we’ve already seen them do this season. You don’t think the Bucks are motivated as hell tonight? That despite their start there are still pundits out there that have them below the Celtics? You don’t think last year’s playoff battle is still fresh in their memory? As of now the Celts are -3 favorites, which is basically in my opinion just because they are at home. In order to figure out how to beat this team, we first have to understand what has made the Bucks so goddamn hard to beat.
First, they score…. a lot. Currently 4th in the NBA in points per game at 120 a night, this is going to be a clash of the titans when you look at offense vs defense. If you look at what has sparked this offensive explosion, it actually lines up exactly with what the Celtics do extremely well. Here’s what I mean. The Bucks LEAD THE NBA in 3PM. at 15.6 a night. That’s right, a team that was 27th last season at 8.8 3PM has doubled their production. Thank you Mike Budenholzer. They’ve figured out instead of settling for those long twos, just take a step back and make the three, and boy have they done it better than everyone else to start the year, yes, even GS. Well, guess who has the second best opponent 3PM numbers in the league (8.9, HOU leads at 8.8)? The Boston Celtics. Guess who leads the league in opponent 3P FG%? The Boston Celtics at 27.4%. So right off the bat, if you’re going to tell me one of the biggest weapons for the Bucks this season is their outside shooting, well let’s see how it looks against the defensive force like what the Celtics are going to throw at them. Now Jaylen is iffy to play, but even still, if there is one thing this team has been elite in, it’s defending the three. This is where the length and the switching becomes so important. Remember how ridiculous Khris Middleton was in that playoff series where it seemed like he didn’t miss a shot?
Well he’s been just as good to start this season. I’m talking 20.7 points a night on 49/54% splits with a ridiculous 4.0 3PM a night on 7.3 3PA. I know Giannis is the one that scares you, but the Celtics have to make a legit effort to slow Middleton down. They can live with Giannis dropping 40, it’s Middleton that’s the one that scares me. I expect to see everyone on him, from Tatum, to Mook, to Jaylen, to Hayward, I just want them to get in his air space and make him work for his buckets.
By now you should know, if you turn the ball over against this Bucks team, it’s a wrap for you in most cases. The good news is the Celtics transition defense has been pretty good, holding opponents to the fewest points off turnovers at just 12.4 a night. This is important for a team that’s 4th in TOs at just 13.9. If the Celtics take care of the ball tonight it’s going to be a huge advantage since the Bucks love to get Giannis out in transition. Despite their length, the one thing the Bucks haven’t really done is steal the ball, where they rank 27th. So if the Celts can take away the three, and limit their turnovers preventing easy transition buckets, how can the Bucks counter? Simple, we saw it during the playoffs. They are going to post the shit out of Giannis
Here’s what you need to know about Giannis. When he’s around the rim, he’s scoring. Probably dunking on your face. However, as insane as he is as a basketball player, his shooting zones are pretty wild.
I mean that’s insane. You get Giannis past 5ft, and he’s a completely different player. Now that’s not easy to do, but it’s the best chance you have at limiting his production. Just like they do with Simmons, the Celtics need to make Giannis a jump shooter. This is where Semi comes in.
Brad’s secret weapon. No he won’t make a shot to save his life, but the dude is something serious on the defensive end, especially when it comes to matching up with Giannis. He has the strength to withstand him on the block, and the quickness to stay with him on the perimeter. This isn;t to say Giannis won’t get his, but the idea is you just don’t want it to be easy. Everyone knows he wants to get into the paint, and you need a strong ass motherfucker to keep him out. That is what Semi is. We saw Brad try and use Horford on him in the playoffs, and Giannis was just too quick. It may seem crazy to say Semi is one of the more important keys to this game, but the proof is in the pudding.
It’s also going to be very important that the Celtics don’t blow their composure, and I’m look at you Terry. We all know the beef between him and Eric Bledsoe from the playoffs, where Terry pretty much destroyed him
I’m pretty sure Bledsoe knows his name now, but it’ll be important for Terry to not get caught up in all that shit and just play his game. I just have a fear he’s going to get matched up with him early, and try to force things to recreate what we saw last spring. I do not want that, because that’s where Terry gets into trouble. The best thing he can do is defend at a high level and just play within himself and the system. Do that and you’ll have the last laugh. But hey, if he wants to cross the shit out of him again along the way I won’t hate that either.
Now while it’s true the Bucks will look different this time around, obviously so will the Celtics with Kyrie and Hayward in the lineup. The offense has looked better over the last few, with Kyrie finally snapping out of his slump, but this will be a good test for him as well. The Bucks have the defense to give him fits, especially at the guard spot. The challenge for the Celtics offense will be how they attack a team that is GREAT at preventing points in the paint. The Bucks give up just 42.9 points in this area which is good for 4th in the NBA. We know this team is at it’s best when it can slash and attack the rim instead of just settling for threes, so how they finish in the paint is going to be the key to everything in my opinion. Can they work around the length and get high quality shots in efficient areas. Maybe that means running Tatum/Gordon/Kyrie off tons of screens to try and create space, and there should be those opportunities because the Bucks give up the most in the paint (non restricted area) shots in the NBA at 17.0 a night. This tells me the Celtics will have these shots if they want them, and it’s an area they thrive in, with the 3rd best FG% in that area at 45.3%. Look for Kyrie/Tatum/Hayward to feast in this area if they’re smart.
Some might say this is just an early game in November that doesn’t mean all that much. Frankly, I disagree. These head to head matchups against East contenders are all big no matter when they are played. The Celtics failed their last test against TOR when they were in this spot, so I am very interested to see how they do tonight against another team that is playing just as well as the Raptors are. Sure it’s fun to beat a struggling OKC team, a fraud team like PHI, and the rebuilding Pistons. But these games are a different level, and if the Celtics really want to assert themselves as the top tier team we want them to be, this is the game you have to win. You’re at home, you’ve won 3 straight, and you’re feeling good. Considering the stretch they are about to embark on, a win here would be huge.
8pm can’t come soon enough, it’s going to be a doozy.