So far, the second round of the NBA Playoff matchups look to be more entertaining than the first. Out West, the quiet franchises in the Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets, who split wins in the first two games in Denver 1–1, battle it out to see who will face the winner of the other matchup. A much more publicized series in the Golden State Warriors vs. the Houston Rockets, a series in which the Warriors lead 2–0 after winning both games on their home court.
In the East, it seems as if the matchups may be a little more even. The Toronto Raptors, facing the Philadelphia 76ers, split the two first games in Toronto, and are now heading into game three in Philadelphia tied up 1–1. The same is the case for the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, who also split the first two games in Milwaukee. While the Warriors seem to be clicking at just the right time and remain front-runners to represent the West in the Finals, it remains uncertain who will represent the East. Sticking to my past predictions however, I still feel confident that whomever wins the Milwaukee-Boston series, will go onto win the East. So, with no disrespect to Canada or Philadelphia, this will be an in depth look into the matchup between the Bucks and the Celtics, as I firmly believe that the winner of this series will surpass either the 76ers or Raptors with ease.
Both the Bucks and Celtics came into this series’ matchup holding undefeated records in the playoffs thus far. Both sweeping their first round opponents, it looked to fans as if this had potential to be the most evenly matched series of the playoffs. Hoping for one team to show slightly more dominance than the other? Assert themselves as the clear frontrunner of the East? Well, if you were, you were likely left disappointed. In the first two games of the series, held in Milwaukee thanks to the Bucks league best record of 60–22, the Celtics took the first game by a margin of 22 points. In the second game, the Bucks, stepping onto the floor with something to prove, won the bout by a margin of 21 points.
Thus far, the series has pretty much played out exactly as any objective NBA analyst likely would have predicted. The Celtics showed dominance through patience in the first game, with steady contributions from Kyrie Irving, who logged 26 points and 11 assists, and Al Horford, who put up 20 points and 10 rebounds. In the second game, the Bucks looked more like themselves, keeping in line with their season-long streak of not losing back to back games at home once. They unleashed Antetokounmpo upon the Celtics, and he put up his MVP regular 29 points and 10 rebounds. The team also received key contributions from role players such as Eric Bledsoe, who logged 21 points, as well as co-All-Star to Giannis Antetokounmpo in Kris Middleton, whom hit seven 3s on his way to 28 points. Both teams, respectively, are doing what they need to do this series, but in the end only one can come out on top.
Ultimately, what this series is going to come down to is a combination of the stars coming to play, as well as maintaining meaningful production from role players. Each team has a clear-cut star upon whom they rely heaviest—Antetokounmpo for Milwaukee, and Irving for Boston. Essentially, these two are going to make or break their teams in the potential five games remaining in this series, and I think that everybody is up for this. Antetokounmpo is one of the most complete all-around players in the league, so to say he is expected to account for the majority of production for the Bucks is realistic in every way. If he gets going, all bets are off, and on top of that, if his teammates are hitting shots, it will be near impossible to stop.
As for the Celtics, while Irving is the offensive focal point through and through, his ability to open up defenses to get his teammates involved is going to be crucial. When he struggles like he did in game two, where he only contributed nine points, it is going to be difficult for him to do such, but so long as he, along with the rest of the offense, is patient in his execution, as has been the case most the season, they will see positive results. It is going to be exciting moving forward to watch for the adjustments made by both teams, but in this regard I feel that the Celtics has the advantage with Coach Brad Stevens, over Milwaukee’s new Coach Mike Budenholzer. Will coaching have that much of an effect? I predict the Celtics will win in seven games.