The Boston Celtics pulled away late from the Indiana Pacers 110-106 to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals after a 4-game series sweep. 7 different players scored in double figures, led by Marcus Morris (18 points) and Gordon Hayward (20 points) off the bench.
Facing a team without its top scorer in Victor Oladipo, who went out in late January with a season-ending knee injury, the Celtics edged the Pacers in 4 competitive games. The top performance came in Game 2 in Boston when Kyrie Irving racked up 37 points in a 99-91 victory.
While not fully settled yet, the Celtics will almost assuredly play the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks as early as April 27 (next Saturday). The Bucks have obliterated the Pistons in 3 games, so far, and get at least 1 more game in Detroit tomorrow.
Let’s take a look at the hypothetical (and very likely) series between the Celtics and Bucks.
Celtics vs. Bucks Conference Semifinals Preview
Milwaukee won the season series 2-1 over Boston, losing the first game back in November at TD Garden 117-113. The Bucks took the next two, first a 120-107 victory (also at TD Garden) in December and then 98-97 in Milwaukee on Feb. 21.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored at least 30 points in each contest, scoring 30 in each win and 33 in the loss. Only one other Buck scored more than 20 points in any of the games, which was Khris Middleton (21 points) in the December win at Boston.
Meanwhile, the Celtics have exhibited a much more balanced attack in the 3 contests. While Kyrie Irving eclipsed 20 points twice, the bulk of the scoring was with the main rotation. 4 out of 5 starters notched double-digit efforts in 2 of the games, while all 5 starters scored in double figures in the Celtics win.
It’s going to be a monumental task, particularly for Marcus Morris and Al Horford, to contain Antetokounmpo. However, the rest of the backcourt can erase the backcourt tandem of Middleton and Eric Bledsoe.
The other wrinkle? Hayward was not 100 percent in any of the contests. He only appeared in the Celtics’ loss in February, working back from his devastating leg injury that caused him to miss the 2017-18 season. He scored 11 points in that game, but it returning to form after the Pacers series.
Meanwhile, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer possibly possesses the league’s best defense, according to Action Network. Much like the Celtics, the Bucks know who to make shoot wide-open 3’s, and run people off the 3-point line that they don’t want to have open.
Why is that the case, especially given that 3-pointers overall are more important than ever in the NBA? Is the answer that the worst teams allow a lot higher percentage of open 3s?
That could partly be true, although the league-leading Bucks have allowed the second-highest percentage of “wide open”3-pointers this season. The Pacers and Celtics are in the top four of allowing the most “open” 3s.
Defensive success for these elite teams like the Bucks and Celtics doesn’t seem to be about limiting 3s or even open 3s, so what is it?
The answer is simple: It’s about who is shooting those 3s.
The Celtics can be deadly from 3-point range, shooting just under 40 percent against the Pacers in Game 4.
The early pick has to be the Bucks, who have a comparable defense to the Celtics but the much more consistent and deadly offense. Boston’s best chance is to allow The Greek Freak to get his points and erase everyone else.
Prediction: Bucks in 6