Celtics

About Last Night: Bucks complete sweep, advance to face Celtics

giannis_antetokounmpo_bucks_042219.jpg
AP Photo

About Last Night: Bucks complete sweep, advance to face Celtics

WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT

Forsberg: Bring on the Bucks!  

Fans in Milwaukee chanted “We want Boston” outside the Bucks' new arena while the team finished off their sweep in Detroit, setting up the second-round matchup between the Celtics and Bucks. 

After two snoozeworthy first-round matchups, this one shouldn’t lack for interest. It’s simply hard to gauge, based on the breeziness of Round 1, where both teams stand. Did the Celtics really make strides or did they feast on a star-less Pacers squad? Are the Bucks ready for the big playoff stage after being the best team in the NBA during the regular season, or did they just roll through an underwhelming Pistons team? We’ve got way too much time to ponder it all before this series tips.

In our pre-playoffs predictions, I had the Celtics winning in 7. I’m sticking with that pick, and I’ll remind you that I was as bullish on the Bucks as anyone this season. While home court could be pivotal here and the Celtics won't have that luxury like a year ago, I do believe the Celtics have the deeper and more talented roster.

Things get murkier if Malcolm Brogdon can return in this series (he’s been a Celtics killer) and the absence of Marcus Smart looms large if Khris Middleton has a series like he did last year. Ultimately, this series hinges on 1) Whether the Celtics can prevent Giannis Antetokounmpo from going supernova and winning games on his own and 2) How does Milwaukee’s supporting cast respond if the Celtics essentially challenge that group to beat them?

If the Celtics get the sort of top-8 contributions they got last round, if Terry Rozier can take out another mortgage in Eric Bledsoe’s head, then Boston can win this series. Alas, if Boston endures the maddening lulls we saw throughout Round 1 and doesn’t take care of the basketball, the Bucks will punish them.

Elsewhere, it felt a little bit like IT Time watching Donovan Mitchell explode for 19 fourth-quarter points as the Jazz prevented a sweep. Alas, we’re all just waiting for Rockets-Warriors.

Blakely: (Never) Fear the Deer! 

Aside from Philadelphia, Milwaukee is the most ideal second-round matchup for the Boston Celtics — which sounds crazy I know, when you're talking about the team that finished with the best record not just in the East, but the NBA!

Although Milwaukee won two of the three regular-season matchups, we have seen too many examples through the years (take the Portland-Oklahoma City series that the Blazers lead 3-1 after losing all four regular season matchups to the Thunder) where what happened then has not impacted on the playoffs. 

This is a tough series to gauge because there are some pretty ginormous X-factors that could easily sway this series in one team's direction. Malcolm Brogdon is likely to find his way on to the floor at some point in this series as he nears a return from a plantar fascia injury. Depending on where he's at health and conditioning-wise, he could revive his role of making life miserable for the Celtics with his clutch shot-making and strong defense. 

Marcus Smart doesn't seem close enough to return in this series, but knowing how badly he wants to be out there and how much they will surely miss his absence in this round versus the first round against Indiana, no one should be totally shocked if he makes a miraculous return before this series ends. 

And let's not forget about Terry Rozier whose coming out party of sorts in the postseason began with Boston's first-round series against Milwaukee. His minutes won't be nearly as plentiful but he still has to make an impact whether it's scoring, defending or trolling Eric Bledsoe and taking him off his game.

Kudos to ex-Celtic Jae Crowder who was the real MVP in Utah's Game 4 win that kept their season alive. Crowder had only scored 19 points in the first three games total, but erupted for Utah's first 12 that set the tone for their victory over Houston. Utah would have to go on an unprecedented run to win the series that they now trail 3-1. And while Utah exposed what may be Houston's greatest weakness — an unwillingness to adjust in a way that doesn't involve shooting 3's — it's hard to imagine the Jazz can do what we saw last night three more times. 
 

SO... THAT HAPPENED


MONDAY'S SCOREBOARD

  • Bucks 127, Pistons 104 (MIL wins series 4-0)
  • Jazz 107, Rockets 91 (HOU leads series 3-1)

NUMBER OF NOTE

+95 — The Bucks' point differential in their four-game sweep of the Pistons. That's the second-largest margin in a four-game sweep in NBA history.

THEY SAID IT

“We definitely owe them something from last year. We’re gonna play hard.”

--Giannis Antetokounmpo on advancing to face the Celtics in the playoffs for the second straight season

WHAT WE'LL BE TALKING ABOUT

Forsberg: One series of interest (unless the Sixers and Nets fight each other) 

It feels like there could be an awful lot of clinching going on Tuesday night with three higher seeds looking to close out with 3-1 leads at home. All of which leaves San Antonio-Denver as the marquee matchup of the night. We thought the Spurs had upset potential but Jamal Murray has had enough big moments to keep things interesting. Feels harder now to see a way the Spurs grind this out.

Still staggering to see OKC down 3-1 when you consider the talent they’ve got. To have both Russell Westbrook and Paul George and still be on the verge of another early exit is just bewildering. It speaks to the still-underrated backcourt in Portland but Oklahoma City has some real tough decisions ahead considering its recent playoff disappointments.

In a first round largely devoid of entertaining matchups in the East, the Nets and Sixers have brought a much-needed dose of spice. Philadelphia seemed to lock up that series by fending off the Nets in Game 4 but let’s hope for more trash talk and dust-ups before this series is over.

Blakely: New Kids on the Block, meet Father Time 

While they won't admit it, there has to be a sense among some within the Denver Nuggets organization that the one year where they do some pretty amazing things as a young team on the rise, their first challenge as the newcomers to this postseason thing is a first-round date with the longest-running postseason show in the NBA. 

I love the way Jamal Murray has experienced the tremendous highs and lows that come with big-time playoff basketball. It will serve him and the Nuggets well going forward in what feels like it's going to be a seven-game series. 

The Brooklyn Nets showed their youth and lack of late-game experience in losing Game 4, a game that they really did play well enough to win if not for their struggles to make plays down the stretch.

And the petty, trash talking between both teams?

It has become a nice distraction in this series that unfortunately will be coming to an end soon.

Speaking of petty trash talk, the back and forth between Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard has been absolute gold. Two of the most talented, highly competitive guards in our league, Lillard has the edge both in terms of talk and the series which Portland leads 3-1. 
 

TUESDAY'S SCHEDULE

  • Magic at Raptors, Game 5 (TOR leads series 3-1) — 7:00pm, NBATV
  • Nets at 76ers, Game 5 (PHI leads series 3-1) — 8:00pm, TNT
  • Spurs at Nuggets, Game 5 (Series tied 2-2) — 9:30pm, NBATV
  • Thunder at Trail Blazers, Game 5 (POR leads series 3-1) — 10:30pm, TNT

Stop being surprised by Marcus Smart's 3-point shooting

Stop being surprised by Marcus Smart's 3-point shooting

It’s time to stop acting so surprised by Marcus Smart’s 3-point shooting.

We now have the past 2 1/2 years of data that suggests that, when healthy, Smart is an above-average 3-point shooter. He shot nearly 39.7 percent beyond the arc in Boston’s 2017 playoff run and carried the momentum into last season when he shot a career-best 36.4 percent. Eleven games into the 2019-20 season, Smart is shooting 40.8 percent while putting up a hefty 6.9 attempts per game.

This isn’t a fluke. No longer does Smart need a snow-day practice session to harness his 3-point superpowers. Smart’s hard work — and, maybe more important, sustained good health — has allowed his natural talents to be spotlighted.

MORE FORSBERG: It's a winning play from Tatum, with help from Smart 

A Smart pull-up 3-pointer used to elicit groans. Now it’s one of Boston’s better looks. Yes, he's still prone to the occasional bold heat check but the results speak for themselves. Smart ranks 13th in the NBA in total 3-pointers made (31) this season and there’s no reason to believe that, given the offensive talent around him this season, this isn’t sustainable.

This isn’t Smart getting hot from one spot or feasting on just open catch-and-shoot looks. On Friday night against Golden State in San Francisco, Smart made five 3-pointers, confidently firing when the ball came his way in transition. When the Celtics kicked out to Smart after an offensive rebound late in the first quarter, it kickstarted their comeback from a 15-point deficit. Early in the fourth quarter, when a defender rushed to impede his path to the paint, Smart hit a little step-back 3-pointer from straightaway.

Smart finished 5-for-9 beyond the arc. It’s the 13th time in his career that he’s made at least five triples in a game (including postseason). Eleven of those have come in the past two-plus seasons. He’s made at least four 3-pointers in each of Boston’s past four wins.

The inconsistencies you remember from the past might have had more to do with health than talent.

Whether it was shredding his hand punching a mirror a few years back or tearing a ligament in his thumb later that season, there have been ailments that contributed to stretches of poor shooting. Still, what Smart is doing now doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone in the Celtics organization.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge have long maintained that Smart had the right mechanics to thrive with the 3-point shot. He’s certainly never lacked for confidence. Assistant coach Jay Larranaga spent a lot of time working with Smart when that shot struggled early in his career. Now Smart fires away with the confidence of someone that completely trusts his shot.

The 3-point shot now accounts for just under 70 percent of Smart’s total shot attempts this season. That’s up from 61 percent last season. While Boston’s offensive quartet of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward have relentlessly attacked the basket this year — Boston’s drives way up from a season ago — Smart has been the beneficiary of drive-and-kicks, particularly when the driver kicks out with a hockey assist and the ball moves quickly to Smart while catching the defense in rotation.

Even better, Smart’s 3-point penchant hasn’t come at the expense of his playmaking. He’s still averaging 4.6 assists per game, providing needed ball-handling with Hayward injured and taking some of the load off Walker.

The NBA’s shot-tracking data hammers home Smart’s better shot selection in recent years. Half of Smart’s 3-point attempts this season have come with zero dribbles and he’s made 40 percent (22 of 55) of those quality catch-and-shoot looks. Smart is shooting 43.6 percent on all “wide-open” 3-pointers (6 feet or more of space) and 38.7 on “open” looks (4-6 feet). More encouraging: He has only six attempts in what’s deemed tight (2-4 feet) coverage and none with “very tight (0-2 feet).

In fact, Smart hasn’t taken a “very tight” covered 3-pointer in either of the past two seasons. Smart isn’t forcing anything and showing a greater maturity in shot selection than at times earlier in his career.

We get it — it was those ill-timed, defense-smothered 3-pointers that used to make fans cringe. Smart didn’t shoot the ball well enough early in his career to justify some of the bold pull-up offerings he’d take.

Now he does. He's earned that trust. And it's time to stop being so surprised when those shots go in.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Kings, which tips off Sunday at 3 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

The historical significance of the Celtics' 10-game winning streak

The historical significance of the Celtics' 10-game winning streak

The Celtics sit atop the NBA having run off 10 wins in a row after dropping their season opener. It's their longest winning streak since Brad Stevens' crew had a 16-game run two seasons ago.

It's the 29th time a C's team has had a winning streak of 10 games or longer and it bodes well for future success in a season when it happens, including eight of their 17 NBA championship seasons.

Our friends at @BostonSportsInf have crunched the numbers and only once has a C's team with a 10-gamer failed to make the playoffs.

That 1970-71 team, in Tommy Heinsohn's second season as coach and featuring John Havlicek and Dave Cowens, went 44-38 and finished third in the Atlantic Division. 

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Kings, which tips off Sunday at 3 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.