Evaluating the Celtics-Bucks Series and Looking Forward to Game 6
You don't often see a two vs seven matchup in the NBA where the seven seed has more talent, but that is what we have in the Milwaukee Bucks-Boston Celtics series. Even though the Bucks may be more talented, the Celtics have the better coach; home court advantage and the second-best defense in the league. They are the more disciplined team and far tougher than the Bucks. The incredible Giannis Antetokounmpo and the underrated Kris Middleton lead Milwaukee, but besides that, you have a bunch of players who are inconsistent on a nightly basis.
Add it all up, and the Celtics are up 3-2 after winning a close Game 5 at home. The series had been close for the most part, except for the teams trading blowouts in Games 2 and 3. Each team has won all their home games and games one, four and five were close. Most people including myself predicted Boston would win this series in six, but closing out the Bucks in Milwaukee will be a tall task. Here is what has stood out so far in the series and what to look for in Game 6 and possibly Game 7.
What Happened in Game 5?
The Celtics made a bold move to start the game by changing their starting lineup. They benched Aron Baynes and moved Al Horford to the five. They went smaller bringing in Semi Ojeleye to pair with Horford alonng with Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. The move was a good one as Horford at the five allowed the Celtics to switch more on defense and get a tad more shooting on the floor. Semi at least takes threes, unlike Baynes. I question though if Semi was the right starter.
He had the worst plus/minus on the team at -5 and only had five points in 31 minutes. Milwaukee doesn't guard him, like at all. Marcus Smart returned last night, and I think he may be the starter in Game 6. We will talk about what his return meant for the Celtics later. The new lineup may not have given the Celtics much-scoring punch, but it paid dividends on defense. Boston held Milwaukee to 36% shooting and 27% shooting from deep.
The Celtics started Semi on Giannis, and while I question his ability to start going forward, it makes sense for him to guard Giannis. He is physical, competes, and he is a player that can take a bunch of fouls and it doesn't matter. It worked as Giannis only had 16 points on ten shots. He had nine assists, but the Celtics trust that others on Milwaukee can't consistently beat them. Watch this clip here of Boston defense's on Giannis
The Bucks try to get Giannis on the move by using him as a screener for Eric Bledsoe. Semi does an excellent job of hanging way back, and letting Giannis roll right into him, this opens up the lane for Bledsoe, but the Celtics will live with that. They will let Bledsoe shoot that floater all day, but they will have Semi stay attached to Giannis on every roll and then the rest of the Celtics will come in to gang rebound.
He did an excellent job, and Horford was fantastic on both ends. He was by far Boston's best offensive option, making two threes and getting to the free throw line ten times. Boston needs him to continue to be aggressive. They can't just keep posting him up either, that is something that needs to be sprinkled in and the Bucks will happily let him do that all game. Horford is more dangerous in pick and rolls, and on the perimeter where he can either shoot or unleash his pump and drive game where he can either attack or dish it. Watch this clip!
Horford is so crafty. He fakes a dribble handoff with Rozier and then gives a quick touch pass to Tatum. Once he gives the ball to Tatum, he hits Brogdon with a brush screen, which forces Zeller to step up. As soon as he does, Horford rolls to the rim, Tatum delivers the pass and Horford throws it down before the Bucks can send help.
Besides Horford, the Celtics offense was pretty grizzly. They only made ten threes, which is the key to their success on offense and key guys like Tatum were cold. Marcus Morris, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier were alright, but they need be better, right now they are putting so much pressure on their defense to be incredible every possession. The Bucks defense was pretty good, but the Celtics missed a lot of good looks. The good news is they got to the line 32 times. Their best offensive lineup was the new starters, but with Morris instead of Ojeleye. That lineup had a ridiculous 129.3 offensive rating in only 26 minutes. More, please!
It is incredible how even these teams have been on both ends in this series. Boston is ninth in both offensive and defensive efficiency among playoff teams, and Milwaukee is eight in both.
Mil reg season- Off- 107.8, Def- 107.1
Mil Playoffs- Off-108.3, Def- 106.7
Bos reg season- Off- 105.2, Def- 101.5
Bos Playoffs- Off- 106.7, Def-108.3
Milwaukee had done a good job on offense in this series. The numbers were helped by a monster game three, but the Bucks have been able to score pretty consistently on the Celtics number two defense. Their defense has only been slightly better and only had one awful game showing, in game two. Boston's offense has been a little better, but their defense has been way worse. Things changed in Game 5 with the return of Marcus Smart and the new starting lineup. Before we look at that, let's look at the Bucks on both sides of the ball.
As I mentioned the Bucks before last night had done a good job scoring the rock on an elite defense. Middleton has been the unsung hero as he has the second-best offensive rating on the team among players who have played double-digit minutes. For the series, he is averaging 25 points on 57% shooting and 60% shooting from deep. Last night was his first poor shooting game, and the Celtics are finally giving him more attention. Middleton has done damage from all over in the series, but I would like to see some more isolation for him. In 17 isolations this series he is scoring a ridiculous 64% of the time and creating 1.412 points per possession. Middleton can do it all as a scorer. He can shoot, handle, post and create. Him isolating is deadly, and it opens up Giannis to spot up where he can drive, cut and crash the boards. Watch this Middleton isolation
Middleton gets a mismatch on Shane Larkin, and Bledsoe immediately gives him the ball. Once Middleton gets it near the left elbow, he goes to work. He pivots two hard dribbles, hits Larkin with a mean pump fake, and it's an easy layup. Larkin on Middleton is what Shaq would call “Barbeque Chicken.”
He was not as good in Game 5, but no one on the Bucks was. The Bucks best source of offense was getting 15 points off 18 Boston turnovers. There was one bright spot, and that was Jabari Parker scoring 17 points and playing with great energy. He was awful in the first two games, but the limited minutes lit a fire under him, and he has been fantastic in the last three games.
Even Parker's defense has improved. The Bucks need him if they want to win this series. I like playing Parker with Middleton and three other shooters. One lineup that has done well featuring Parker is pairing him with Middleton, Bledsoe, Thon Maker and Tony Snell. Parker, Middleton, and Bledsoe can all penetrate, and with two shooters the spacing is good. Maker has been a revelation once he got in the rotation, Snell has been a disaster, but at least he can make open threes and defend.
As for defense, the Bucks best bet is Bledsoe, Brogdon, Giannis, Middleton, and Maker. This group has incredible length and shot blocking. It is also versatile and allows them to switch a lot. Even though they get burned sometimes, the Bucks still need to force Boston into some turnovers. Boston has won the pace battle in this series, and Milwaukee needs to capitalize on the running opportunities it gets. The Bucks also need to clean up the glass.
The Bucks are 15th amongst playoff teams in defensive rebounding, and the Celtics have gotten a ton of offensive rebounds. This is the problem playing Maker, or Giannis too long at center. It also speaks to the loss of Henson, which has been significant even though the Bucks won two games without him. Giannis and Parker need to step up on the boards. It has got so bad that the Bucks have played Shabazz Muhammad, who has been alright, but I still don't trust him. Regardless of the lineup, this can't happen.
Marcus Smart shoots an ill-advised contested jumper. Baynes comes in to tip it twice out back to his team, in the middle of THREE Bucks. Morris recovers the tip and comes all the way into the lane for a layup. These are the points that are killing the Bucks.
Looking forward and Marcus Smart
Getting Smart back last night was massive for the Celtics. He immediately gave them energy, toughness, defense, and playmaking. For the game, he had nine points, five rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal. He finished with a +2 plus/minus and even though he only shot two for seven and had five turnovers, the good outweighed the bad. He makes the Celtics more versatile, helps their offense with his passing and on defense; he is a tornado of destruction. Watch this play.
Marcus Smart isn’t even guarding anyone on this play he is just roaming around waiting to pounce. The Bucks try to run a screen and roll with Delly and Giannis to get Giannis a lob. The play works, until Smart comes out of nowhere and swats the ball away. Delly didn’t see him coming and neither did Giannis. These are the plays that ignite a team and a crowd. Smart is an incredible rim protector for his size and position.
He will be important in Game 6 and possibly seven. For the Celtics to close out the series on the road, they need to win a slow, low scoring game and protect the ball. Keep loading up on Giannis and Middleton and make the others beat you. On offense, threes are the key for them, but they can also keep attacking the offensive boards and get to the free throw line. Horford is a pass first player, but he needs to continue to be aggressive. Brown, Rozier, and Tatum also can't settle for too many jumpers; they need to attack, they are all capable drivers.
On the Milwaukee side, I would play Brogdon more even though the numbers haven’t been great. If Henson plays, start him, if not I would start Maker over Zeller who has given the Bucks nothing in this series. Giannis and Middleton need to play heavy minutes and some more Delly! He has been solid on both ends this series. Play Parker in the lineups we mentioned and feature him early to get him going. Give Snell a shot, but be quick with the hook. Mainly, Giannis has to be aggressive, and the Bucks need to win the energy battle and play like the more desperate team. This game will be a battle, and it will be close, but I think the Celtics end the series with a close win.