The Milwaukee Bucks received a lot of criticism when they made the decision to sit their starters in the final game of the regular season. They lost that game intentionally, which ensured they would be the No. 3 seed and would avoid the Brooklyn Nets in their opening-round series.
They instead faced the Chicago Bulls — a team they thoroughly dominated all season. Many talking heads called this decision cowardly and even went as far to question the defending champion Bucks’ competitive spirit. Above all, that decision to tank the final regular-season game meant they would sacrifice home-court advantage in the second round against the Boston Celtics, a decision many (myself included) thought would prove costly.
Well, the Bucks put all of that talk swiftly to rest with a dominant victory in Game 1 that allowed them to steal home-court advantage right back after a mere 48 minutes of play. Game 2 is now a virtual “must win” for the Celtics — they can’t afford to head into Fiserv Forum in Game 3 down 0-2 against the defending champs if they have any realistic hopes of winning this series.
The good news for the Celtics is they are probably going to be fine.
Boston got whatever it wanted offensively against the putrid Nets defense and I think the Celtics were a little complacent coming into this series as a result. The Celtics had their worst shooting performance of the season by far in Game 1; the entire team was downright pitiful.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined to shoot 10-for-31 from the field. Payton Pritchard, Marcus Smart and Al Horford combined to shoot 9-for-30. As a whole they shot 28-84 (33%) from the field (the worst since 2017) and an abysmal 18-50 from 3-point land. The Bucks are a far better defense team compared to the Nets, but the Celtics missed a ton of wide-open looks that just weren’t falling. Game 1 was a true shooting anomaly and I expect serious positive regression from all of the Celtics tonight.
Historically under head coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks have struggled on the road early in their series. They were down 0-2 to the Nets last year in the Eastern Conference Finals and were down 0-2 to the Phoenix Suns in the Finals. Their point spread cover in Game 1 was the first time they covered a Game 1 point spread in seven tries. The playoffs are all about chess moves and adjustments, and I look for Celtics head coach Ime Udoka to be up to the challenge.
In their first series against the Nets, the Celtics employed the defensive strategy of swarming Kevin Durant and forcing the rest of the Nets to beat them, and they weren’t talented enough to do so. They attempted the same against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, but they didn’t have anywhere near the same level of success.
The “Greek Freak” was the best player on the court and was virtually unstoppable, contributing in every facet. They did hold him to only 24 points, but he finished with a triple-double, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing 12 assists. The Bucks’ role players also stepped up in a big way with Jrue Holiday scoring a game-high 25 points and Greyson Allen and Bobby Portis continued their hot shooting from three, combining for 26 points.
Defensively, the Bucks also gave the Celtics a taste of their own medicine, swarming Jayson Tatum on every possession. The difference was while Milwaukee’s other shooters stepped up and rose to the occasion, the Celtics couldn’t buy a bucket. Boston was having a tough time attacking the rim with Brook Lopez, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bobby Portis doing a great job protecting the paint, so they defaulted to shooting a ton of threes.
I do not expect the Celtics’ best shooters to continue to miss wide open looks, but shooting 50 3-pointers a game is not a winning strategy either. The Bucks pushed the ball in transition like they like to do, and they won the fast break battle 28 to eight. Boston is going to have to do a much better job avoiding turnovers that led to a lot of easy Milwaukee fast-break points in Game 1.
It’s very easy to have recency bias and be a victim to the moment when betting the NBA playoffs, but it’s very important to not overreact too much to one game. Despite the blowout loss in Game 1, the oddsmakers set the same line in Game 2 — they don’t overreact to a one-game sample and neither should we. Let’s not forget the Celtics just swept the Nets and won 30 of their last 37 games!
Game 1 was a flukey game and I expect the Celtics to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders from the tip in this must-win game. Tatum and Brown were awful in Game 1, but they have been excellent all year and there is no reason not to expect both All-Stars to bounce back in a big way tonight. Tatum has been a bonafide superstar all season, averaging 26.9 points per game. Brown wasn’t that far behind, averaging 23.6 points per game. Brown was particularly terrible in Game 1 and I’ll look for him to make serious amends for that tonight.
Ime Udoka has proven that he is a defensive mastermind all year and I expect him to employ a different defensive approach in Game 2 with not as much attention being placed on stymying Antetokounmpo.
The Celtics can’t continue to leave the floor open allowing the other shooters on Milwaukee to beat them — this isn’t the Nets, the Bucks have plenty of role players who are more than capable of knocking down shots if you leave them open. It would be smarter for them to live with Antetokounmpo getting his points and putting the focus back on what made them the No. 1-ranked defensive team in the league in the first place — playing fundamentally sound “in your face” team defense.
Expect the Celtics to play much better in the rematch and for the wide-open shots they missed so frequently in Game 1 to start falling. I look for the Celtics to get out to a fast start this time and for their top-ranked defense to come up big late in the game and for them to win this game by double digits. I’m laying the points with the Celtics in both the first half and full game.
Bonus Player Prop: Jaylen Brown Over 22.5 | -125 at DraftKings
Bucks vs. Celtics Game 2 Prediction
I just can’t see Milwaukee going up 2-0 in this series, and in the games Bucks has lost this year, they are 0-32 against the spread. Not a single “close but no cigar” loss where they lose the game but cover the spread. When they lose, they lose by margin and I look for them to lose by margin tonight. Celtics by 10!