Celtics

Celtics-Bucks preview: Injury-plagued C's out to 'prove everybody wrong'

Celtics-Bucks preview: Injury-plagued C's out to 'prove everybody wrong'

BOSTON – Motivation is never in short supply when it comes to teams in the NBA playoffs. 

But the higher the playoff seeding, the “us versus the world” narrative so many teams love to cloak themselves under this time of year, comes off as a stretch. 

Not so much for the Celtics who begin their postseason quest this afternoon as the No. 2 seed, with a roster that doesn’t look anything like your typical No. 2 seed courtesy of what has been a season filled with injuries. 

Sadly, it wasn’t all that shocking for the Celtics’ roster on the eve of the playoffs, to suffer a major blow – Kyrie Irving’s season-ending knee surgery – akin to how the season began with Gordon Hayward’s dislocated left ankle injury which ended his season after just five minutes. 

Their absences are part of the narrative that the Celtics may be as ripe as any No. 2 seed we’ve seen in recent memory, to not get out of the first round against the seventh-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. 

Celtics forward Marcus Morris has heard the murmurs about Boston’s impending demise, something he says has indeed added fuel to an already-motivated Celtics club that has been fighting – and beating – adversity all season.

After Hayward’s season-ending injury within the first five minutes of the season, the Celtics returned home the following night and lost to the Milwaukee. 

Boston then reeled off 16 straight wins, setting the tone for a season in which they consistently exceeded the expectations of others while doing exactly what they set out to do at the start of the season – continue to get better.  

“I’m looking forward to proving everybody wrong,” Morris said. “Everyone counting us out. This is about respect. I felt like we are not getting any respect so we’re gonna have to take it.”

And that means getting past a Milwaukee team led by all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

Although Boston and Milwaukee split the season series 2-2, Antetokounmpo was easily the best player on the floor seemingly every game.

In those four matchups, he averaged a super-sized double-double of 33.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting 53.9 percent from the field. 

Boston will throw several defenders at Antetokounmpo, including Morris.

“He’s a 7-footer or whatever he is, with long arms,” Morris said. “Once he gets in the paint it’s kind of hard to stop him. His up-fakes and step-throughs … just don’t give him any space. You have to step up on him when he goes downhill. Everybody has to help out on him.”

The attention Antetokounmpo draws has opened the offense up for his teammates, a big reason why Milwaukee shot 47.8 percent from the field this season which ranked third in the NBA. 

But in Boston, the Bucks will see a defense that has been near the top of several defensive categories and finished the season with a league-best defensive rating of 101.5.

The big concern for the Celtics going into the postseason is centered around their offense which, not surprisingly, has taken a noticeable dip since Irving’s absence. 

Prior to Irving missing the final 15 games, Boston had an offensive rating of 105.7 while averaging 104.4 points which ranked 16th and 20th, respectively, in the NBA. 

Since then, Boston’s offensive rating has dipped to 103.3 while their scoring is also down to 102.1 which rank 24th and 26th, respectively. 

But Boston may have found the elixir to its offensive struggles in the form of Milwaukee’s defense which despite its immense length at seemingly every position, has struggled regardless of who is on the floor or calling the shots from the sideline. 

Under then-head coach Jason Kidd who was fired on Jan. 22, the Bucks had a defensive rating of 107.5 which ranked 24th in the NBA. 

Since assistant Joe Prunty took over, Milwaukee’s defensive rating has made a slight improvement to 106.7 which ranks 15th in the league.

Milwaukee’s defense, when effective, includes them getting lots of deflections and forcing turnovers via steals, a category in which they average 8.8 per game which ranks second in the NBA. 

But often those steals come via gambling defensively, and when it doesn’t work it creates open or lightly contested shots – something the Celtics will certainly look to capitalize on today.

Today’s game will be like many Boston has played this season, where the skeptics are out in full force, resulting in the Celtics’ mental toughness being challenged both on and off the court. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens doesn’t mince his words when he talks about things that concern him about today’s game and this playoff series against the Bucks. 

But his team’s mental toughness?

Not a problem. 

“I don’t think we’d be sitting where we were if we didn’t have a good deal of that in that locker room,” Stevens said. “I think they’re able to move on to what’s next, they’re committed to each other, they’re not gonna dwell on a bad performance individually and let it affect their next day.

Stevens added, “they’re not gonna raise banners over a good performance individually and let it hurt the next day. It’s a very kind of, ‘to the next thing’ group.”

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Bucks vs. Celtics: It's all come down to 'who wants it the most'

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File photo

Bucks vs. Celtics: It's all come down to 'who wants it the most'

MILWAUKEE -- Khris Middleton knows what’s at stake so there’s no need to sugarcoat or downplay the significance of tonight’s Game 6 matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks. 

“Just win or go home,” Middleton said. “You can’t leave nothing on the line.”

Boston will come into tonight’s game with a similar approach, aware that regardless of what happens in Game 6, they will live to see another game at the TD Garden on Saturday at 8 p.m. EST. They could play Game 7 against Milwaukee or Game 1 of the second round against Philadelphia.

But the Celtics will tell you the sooner they can put away this Bucks team, the better off they’ll be. 

At this point in the series, there are no true surprises for either team.

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“Fifth time playing each other, you’re gonna know each other’s game pretty well by now,” said Milwaukee guard Matthew Dellavedova. “So it’s definitely some things we can do better, and we’ll execute better in game six.”

Like most playoff series, adjustments have a way of often being the difference between winning and losing. 

Milwaukee struck first by inserting Malcolm Brogdan into the starting lineup from Game 3 on, to replace Tony Snell who has struggled shooting the ball (29.4 percent) most of this series. And a back injury to John Henson afforded more playing time to ex-Celtic Tyler Zeller and Thon Maker, with the latter having dominant performances in Games 3 and 4, but being a non-factor in Boston’s Game 5 win which gave the Celtics a 3-2 series lead.

Boston has since countered with Marcus Smart making his playoff debut this season in Game 5 after being out six weeks with a right thumb injury, while Semi Ojeleye got his first NBA start in Boston’s Game 5 win as well. 

“It made it a little bit easier for us (defensively),” said Jaylen Brown, referring to Ojeleye’s first NBA start. “Because we can switch . . . we’re all the same. That made it a lot easier for us.”

"It’s gonna come down to who owns their space, who wants it the most and who’s gonna fight for it,” Brown said. “All that X’s and O’s and stuff  . . . it’s gonna come down to that (who wants it, fights for it more) at the end of the day.”

Terry Rozier added, “It’s gonna be a dog fight but we look to come out on top.”

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Another late error by refs: Celts should have been called for shot-clock violation

Another late error by refs: Celts should have been called for shot-clock violation

MILWAUKEE -- The NBA’s two-minute report from Boston’s 92-87 Game 5 win on Tuesday confirmed what many thought at the time: A 3-point heave by Al Horford with 1:18 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Celtics leading 84-79 was not released prior to the 24-second shot clock expiring, and the Bucks should have been awarded the ball.
 
Following the game, Milwaukee interim head coach Joe Prunty was vocal in his belief that the officials made a mistake in not calling a 24-second violation. The lead official, Ken Mauer, told a pool reporter that the play was not reviewable because Horford missed the shot. Had he made it, the referees could have reviewed it.
 
“The rule states that under two minutes we are not allowed to review a potential 24-second violation unless the ball goes into the basket,” Mauer said.
 
Prunty understood the reason for the refusal to review the play, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with. 
 
The Bucks were focused on getting the ball back and, trailing 84-79, would have had a chance to make it a one-possession game with about a minute to play. The call didn't cost Milwaukee any points, even though the Celtics successfully rebounded Horford's miss and retained possession; Marcus Morris subsequently missed a shot. Still, Boston was able to take about 20 seconds off the clock.

“That was a huge stop to get in Game 5 of a playoff series where both teams are putting everything on the line,” Prunty said after practice on Wednesday. “That’s a tough time to have a missed call. I know for me, I had a great view of it. So what I thought was a shot-clock violation was not called.”

In Sunday's Game 4, the NBA said Milwaukee's Khris Middleton should have been called for fouling Jaylen Brown with less than a minute to play as Brown drove to the basket attempting to extend Boston's 100-99 lead. Instead Brown lost the ball and the Bucks eventuallly pulled out a 104-102 victory.
 
That specific call was one of 15 made by the officials in the final two minutes of play. Of the calls made, the other 14 were correct calls or correct non-calls upon review.