BOSTON -- For the second year in a row, the Boston Celtics’ playoff journey will have to go through the Milwaukee Bucks.
Their playoff history is not an overly extensive one, which should be a surprise when you consider the Celtics had already won 10 NBA titles by the time the Bucks became an NBA franchise in 1968.
This will mark the seventh time these two have met in the postseason, with the Celtics holding a commanding 5-1 all-time series lead.
Here’s a recap of each playoff series.
1974: Boston wins NBA Finals, 4-3
Both rosters were filled with future Hall of Famers, some coming into their prime (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White, Paul Westphal) while others were nearing the end of their illustrious careers (Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek).
A knee injury to Milwaukee point guard Lucious Allen that kept him sidelined for the entire series, would be a huge blow to the Bucks’ chances. And to the Celtics' credit, they took advantage of Allen’s absence to take Game 1 of the series and with it, home-court advantage away from Milwaukee.
The Bucks bounced back in Game 2 as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the way at both ends of the floor in leading Milwaukee to an overtime victory in which he scored 36 points along with 15 rebounds and six assists with the series moving to Boston for Game 3.
Game 3 saw the Celtics’ pressure defense force the Bucks into a slew of miscues from the outset, with Boston forcing 27 turnovers for the game which included 11 in the first quarter alone. The Bucks were never able recover as Boston went on to win 95-83 to regain home-court advantage which, as it turned out, would not mean much in this series.
The road team won Games 4, 5 and 6 which set up a winner-take-all Game 7 in Milwaukee.
Boston had been a man-to-man defensive team all season and in the playoffs, but head coach Tommy Heinsohn decided to throw the Bucks a curveball when he decided to have his players double- and triple-team Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for large chunks of the game. Abdul-Jabbar still wound up with a strong game of 26 points and 13 rebounds, and the help that Dave Cowens got defensively made him a lot fresher and more impactful in terms of scoring the ball.
Cowens would lead all scorers with 28 points on 13-for-25 shooting to go with four assists as Boston went on to a 102-87 win, giving Boston its 12th NBA title and first without Bill Russell on the roster.
1983: Bucks win second-round series 4-0
With no Dave Cowens, the Boston Celtics were no match for the Milwaukee Bucks and their 1-2 combo of Sidney Moncrief and Marques Johnson. Even after Milwaukee took Games 1 and 2 at the Garden, there was still hope that Boston could right the ship due to their strong play on the road.
During the regular season, the Celtics had the third-best road record.
But that didn’t do them much good as the Bucks, upon returning home, picked up where they left off in Boston to take Games 3 and 4.
And in doing so, Milwaukee handed Boston its first four-game sweep ever.
“We flat-out beat Boston and played well to do it,” Bucks head coach and former Celtic Don Nelson said at the time. “Am I surprised we beat them in four? Certainly. I didn’t think that was possible.”
Boston’s M.L. Carr had similar thoughts on what happened.
“It’s like flunking a test in school,” Carr said at the time. “It had been done so many times in this uniform. And all of a sudden you come up short, it leaves you a lonesome feeling.”
1984: Boston wins Conference Finals 4-1
Facing the Bucks for the second straight year in the playoffs, the Celtics were looking to exact some revenge after having been swept by the Bucks in previous year.
Boston didn’t waste any time delivering a clear message as to how the series would play out, opening things with a 119-96 drubbing at the Boston Garden in Game 1.
The Celtics followed that up with a 125-110 win with Larry Bird and Dennis Johnson leading the way with 32 and 27 points, respectively.
Milwaukee played better to start things in Game 3 on their home floor, but a second-half surge by the Celtics propelled them to a 109-100 win and with it a 3-0 series lead.
It seemed only fitting that a year after the Bucks swept the Celtics, Boston now found itself in position to do the same.
However, the Bucks refused to have their season end on their home floor as they held on for a 122-113 win.
It would end just a couple days later in Boston as the Celtics spent most of Game 5 playing with a lead before the game ended in a 115-108 series-clinching win for Boston, which went on to win the franchise’s 15th NBA title in a seven-game thriller over the Los Angeles Lakers. It would also mark the final game played by future Hall of Famer Bob Lanier.
1986: Boston wins Conference Finals, 4-0
By the time 1986 rolled around, the Boston Celtics had firmly established themselves as the team everyone in the Eastern Conference was chasing. Boston came into the Conference Finals against the Bucks having lost just one game in the postseason.
Boston came into the series on a mission: to get past Milwaukee as quickly as possible and get back to the NBA Finals after having lost to the Los Angeles Lakers the previous year.
Indeed, the series with the Bucks was a clinic on how a great team rises to the occasion and doesn’t give their opponent a prayer’s chance at competing with them — let alone winning a game.
Boston swept the series in four games, three of which ended with the Celtics winning by double figures.
And the Celtics would go on to the NBA Finals to face the Houston Rockets, whom the Celtics downed in six games to claim NBA title No. 16.
1987: Boston wins second-round series, 4-3
Coming off another season ending with an NBA title, the gap between Boston and the rest of the East was starting to slowly but surely shrink.
Boston had no problem putting the Bucks away in Game 1, but Game 2 was much closer as Boston hung on for a 126-124 win with Larry Bird and Danny Ainge each scoring 30 points.
Milwaukee built off the momentum of a strong Game 2 showing, to cut into Boston’s series lead with a 126-121 Game 3 win in which John Lucas had 30 points for the Bucks while Ricky Pierce came off the bench and scored 29.
But Boston would come back with a double-overtime thriller, 128-127, to take a commanding 3-1 series lead with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale carrying a large chunk of the scoring load with 42 and 34 points, respectively.
The Bucks used a strong fourth quarter to rally for a Game 5 win, and pulled off a similar late-game surge to win Game 6 and even the series at three games apiece.
In Game 7, it was the Celtics benefiting from strong play in the fourth quarter to close out the series with a 119-113 victory, a game in which Boston outscored the Bucks 31-24 in the fourth.
Larry Bird (31 points, 10 rebounds), Kevin McHale (26 points, 15 rebounds) and Dennis Johnson (19 points, 10 assists) each tallied a double-double in the series-clinching victory.
2018: Boston wins first-round series, 4-3
Having not played in the postseason against one another for more than a quarter-century, this was not expected to be much of a series as the top-seeded Celtics were expected to roll over the eighth-seeded Bucks with no problem.
But Milwaukee gave Boston all they could handle, even as the Celtics dominated Games 1 and 2 by leading for nearly 30 minutes in Game 1 and more than 43 minutes in Game 2.
But the Bucks delivered an emphatic Game 3 performance in which Boston led for a total of just 35 seconds while Milwaukee essentially did whatever the Bucks wanted to before the game finally ended with a 116-92 win.
Game 4 was a down-to-the-wire battle that ended with a tip-in by Giannis Antetokounmpo with 5.1 seconds to play to knot the series at 2-2.
Similar to the previous two Celtics wins, Boston spent the bulk of Game 5 - more than 40 minutes - playing with a lead before finishing with a 92-87 win in which Al Horford had a double-double of 22 points and 14 rebounds while Terry Rozier chipped in with 16 points.
With a chance to close out the series in Game 6 and move on the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics’ efforts were rebuffed by the Bucks who weren’t quite ready to have their season end.
A poor second quarter by Boston in which the Celtics were outscored 26-15, would prove to be the difference as Milwaukee lived to play another day with a 97-86 win.
Once again in a Game 7, winner-take-all scenario, Boston made the most of the moment with several players chipping in, led by their playoff edition Big Three of Al Horford (26 points, eight rebounds), Terry Rozier (26 points, nine assists, six rebounds) and Jayson Tatum (20 points, six rebounds, five assists). The Bucks stayed relatively close, but they could never really get over the hump and gain control of the game which was evident by Boston playing with a lead or being tied for all but two minutes and 39 seconds of play.
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