BOSTON -- There are some NBA playoff matchups that you really have to search far and wide to come up with good storylines.
This Boston-Milwaukee second round series?
It ain’t one of them.
Moments after the Bucks completed their four-game sweep of the Detroit Pistons, their star player Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t mince words when it came to facing the Celtics, who eliminated the Bucks in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
“We definitely owe them something from last year,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’re going to play hard and it’s going to be fun games to watch.”
Milwaukee’s desire to exact revenge against Boston after the Celtics eliminated them in seven games a year ago, is one of the many story lines that will be followed closely in this series, which begins this weekend.
Here are a few more …
What are the Celtics gonna do with Giannis Antetokounmpo?
There’s an extremely short list of players who are going to dominate play regardless of what teams try to do defensively, an exclusive club that can claim Antetokounmpo as one of its members.
In each of the three regular-season meetings, the Celtics used nine different players defensively on Antetokounmpo, with a different player defending him for the most possessions in each game.
Second Spectrum data shows that Semi Ojeleye defended him a team-high 24 possessions in Boston’s 117-113 win over the Bucks on Nov. 1.
But in their two subsequent matchups on Dec. 21 and Feb. 21, it was Jaylen Brown and Al Horford, respectively, leading the way.
Mixing up who defends Antetokounmpo will once again be Boston’s strategy to limit him, with an occasional double-team or blitz designed to get the ball out of his hands.
With Boston starting a double-big lineup of Horford and Baynes, look for Horford to begin the game defensively against him.
What’s the deal with Scary Terry?
Easily one of the coolest developments to come out of last year’s playoff run -- and the Bucks series specifically -- was the evolution of the Scary Terry Rozier movement that went from being some really cool T-shirts and a talking point for talking heads such as myself, to a shoe and apparel deal for Terry Rozier with Puma.
He became a big deal because he was getting big-time minutes filling in for an injured Kyrie Irving. And in the process of filling in, he began to fill up the stat sheet and highlight reel with some impressive moves, like this one which led to a well-documented beef between Rozier and Bledsoe that went on throughout the series.
But if you’re expecting that kind of smack-talk this time around, it’ll be in the small drip form as opposed to the floodgates of trash talk we saw last season.
Rozier is coming off the bench now, playing fewer minutes and that in itself lessens the impact he’ll likely make.
Meanwhile, that whole playoff series has been a major motivation for Bledsoe, who has shown himself to be a much better player now and one of the reasons Milwaukee finished with the best record in the NBA.
But you know at some point in this series, those two will get into it and that’ll re-ignite the Scary Terry following who are going to be well-represented in this series if for no other reason than to mock Bledsoe.
Kyrie Irving is a first-round killer. But what has he done in the next round?
It is well-documented how successful Irving has been in the first round; and by success, I mean the dude hasn’t lost a game, let alone a first-round series .... ever!
Well, he has been pretty damn successful in the second round, boasting an impressive record of 12-2.
In those 14 games, he has averaged 19.9 points, 5.4 assists and 2.2 rebounds while shooting 42.3 percent from the field and 46.9 percent from 3-point range.
Of course, when it comes to Irving and postseason success, you always have to remember that prior to this month it all came with LeBron James by his side.
But as we saw in Boston’s first-round sweep of Indiana, Irving is intent on making an impact this time of year because truth be told, he doesn’t know anything differently.
Which team has the stronger bench?
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving will garner most of the headlines in this series.
That’s what superstars do, of course.
But the play of their benches will be just as vital to which team moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Boston’s second unit is led by Gordon Hayward, whose play of late has been more akin to his final days in Utah. The Celtics’ second unit also includes Marcus Morris and Rozier, with the latter playing some of the best basketball of his career when these two teams met in the playoffs last year.
The Celtics’ edge in terms of second-unit success might hinge on the availability of Malcolm Brogdon, out with a plantar fascia injury that’s likely to heal enough to where he can see action in this series.
He has been at his best against the Celtics, averaging 13.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists in Milwaukee’s three games against Boston this season with a plus/minus of +5.3.
Brogdon appeared in 64 regular season games this season, and became the eighth player in NBA history to shoot better than 50 percent from the field (50.5 percent), 40 percent from 3-point range (42.6 percent) and 90 percent from the free throw line (92.8 percent).
But even without Brogdon, the Bucks’ backups have been good during the playoffs.
According to hoopsstats.com, which tracks a slew of NBA-related stats, the Bucks average 37.3 points per game off the bench in the playoffs, ranking third among the 16 teams in the postseason. Boston (32.8 points) isn’t too far behind.
In addition to scoring, Milwaukee’s bench averages 21.0 rebounds in the playoffs which is tops among all 16 teams in the postseason.
How big of a deal is it that Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer used to coach Al Horford?
While it can’t hurt that the Bucks’ head coach is well-versed on the strengths and weaknesses of Horford, it likely won’t do him or the Bucks much good in this series.
The things that Horford does well -- read defenses, stretch the floor with his shooting, run pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop with Kyrie Irving -- are things that everyone knows Horford does at an elite level.
Because as much as Budenholzer can tell his players what Horford will do in certain situations, that doesn’t account for Horford’s ability to play his game despite the efforts of most teams defensively.
In the two games Horford played against Milwaukee this season, he has averaged a double-double of 19.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists while shooting 38.9 percent from the field and and 35.3 percent from 3-point range.
Keeping those scoring and rebounding numbers up won’t be easy for Horford, who will spend a good chunk of the games trying to defend Antetokounmpo. And at the other end of the floor, he will likely be guarded by Brook Lopez, who is one of the better defensive-minded bigs in the NBA. In the two games Horford played against the Bucks this season, Lopez defended him more than any other Milwaukee player in both games for a total of 64 possessions of which Horford scored 23 total points on 9-for-20 shooting, along with six assists.
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