These two teams have met in the playoffs each of the past two seasons, the Celtics winning an epic opening-round series behind a slew of young players in 2018 and the Bucks exacting revenge by taking the conference semis with ease over Boston this past Spring. There is plenty of familiarity here. Over the last three seasons, including the playoffs, these teams have played 23 times, with Milwaukee ahead, 12-11.
This is a much different Celtics team than in recent years, though, with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford swept out in the offseason and Kemba Walker taking Irving’s place along with a cast of thousands to fill the hole left by Horford at center. The Celtics, and Walker especially, have looked disjointed offensively, shooting 37.7 percent in their first two games. But they got a good dose of the Knicks in an easy win Sunday, with Walker scoring 32 points on 11-for-17 shooting.
The Bucks will come to Boston with their offense clicking, sixth in the league at 110.4 points per 100 possessions and with the second-best effective field-goal percentage in the NBA, 56.1. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is leading the way with 24.3 points, but his other numbers—13.3 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.7 blocks, 1.3 steals—have set him apart.
Both teams are 2-1 and looking to build some momentum before long upcoming road trips.
Bucks vs. Celtics Preview
While there will be star power in the starting fives, this game could be won among the reserves.
The Celtics bench was a mess through three games, averaging 26.0 points, shooting 36.7 percent (27th in the league) and making 20.0 percent of their 3s. There’s no offensive punch among the players on the second unit and it’s possible that Celtics coach Brad Stevens eventually will move one of his starters into a bench role.
The Bucks have averaged 42.0 points off the bench, with 50.5 percent shooting (third) and 42.3 percent 3-point shooting (fourth). Veteran guard George Hill has led the way there, averaging 10.7 points, 4.7 assists and shooting 57.1 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from the 3-point line.
Closing that gap will be vital for Boston, which will still be without offensive-minded big man Enes Kanter but could get a lift if rookie Romeo Langford is ready to pitch in after returning from a sprained knee.
But the Bucks have too much firepower for Boston. Reining in Antetokounmpo is not easy for any defense, but without Horford in the middle, the Celtics’ defensive IQ has taken a hit. No. 2 option Khris Middleton (19.0 points on 40.0 percent shooting from the 3-point line) is off to a good start and the Bucks, who play well on the road, where they were 27-14 last season. Milwaukee should be able to hold off what is sure to be an energetic effort from the Celtics.
Look for Boston, 2.5-point underdogs on Fanduel but 2.0 points elsewhere, to continue its righting of the offensive ship in a high-scoring matchup–the over is a good play here–but still come up short against a tested Milwaukee team.
Bucks vs. Celtics Pick & Prediction
PICK: Pick Bucks – 2
SCORE PREDICTION: Bucks 118, Celtics 110