It is do or die for the Boston Celtics as they head to Milwaukee to take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks down 3-1 in the best-of-7 series. The Celtics ran away with Game 1 and had a lot of people second-guessing their pick to win the series, but the Bucks have now won three straight and look to be the first team to solidify their spot in the conference finals. The Bucks are -9 point favorites in this game, one of the most significant lines in the conference semifinals so far.
Coming into this series, I expected the Celtics to put up more of a fight than most, simply due to their overall talent level. This issue is that Gordon Hayward has still not really clicked in the offense, and Kyrie Irving has been relatively horrible. Irving is shooting 37% from the field and 25% from three-point range in this series. This includes games of 4-18, 8-22, and 7-22. Woof.
I was expecting the Celtics talent to shine through and make this series really competitive, but that has not been the case in the last three games due to Kyrie’s struggles. The rest of the Celtics have played well in the series for the most part, but you are really going to struggle to win when your two highest played players shoot 8-27 from the field.
Last year, both of these players missed the playoffs, and the Celtics looked to be really scary once they got healthy. The issue is that would the Celtics have been worse in the last three games if Terry Rozier played Kyrie’s minutes? Almost certainly not. What if Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Morris just took over Gordon Hayward’s minutes? There probably wouldn’t have been much different at all.
Now, this isn’t saying that the Celtics would have been a better team without them, but it is simply bringing to light how unimpactful they have been in the last three games. I would not expect this to continue though. George Hill and Eric Bledsoe are both good point guard defenders, and I would probably expect Kyrie to have a below average Kyrie outcome in this spot. However, that does not mean 7-22.
If we want to hit a little narrative street here, it’s that Kyrie Irving is rather petty and the last thing he wants is the media bugging him about playoff struggles. I expect to see a better Kyrie in this game, similar to Game 1.
Nothing about the Bucks’ performance has surprised me to this point. I think that Giannis’s bad performance in Game 1 and great performance in Game 4 are both outliers. This is a bad matchup for Giannis as a whole, but they have done a good job of getting him into situations that fit his skill set well based on the Celtics schemes.
This is a poor matchup for Bledsoe and Brook Lopez, and they have been pretty neutral all series long, posting below-average stat lines consistently. Middleton has basically been used as a spot-up shooter, a role in which he usually thrives. He struggled in Game 4, but his series averages are about what I would expect.
Celts Not Dead
I think this game simply comes down to the best player on both teams and that has really been exactly how the series has gone so far. The Bucks are up 3-1 over the Celtics, and Giannis is up 3-1 over Kyrie when grading out individual performances. That being said, I really like buying into some regression here and taking the Celtics +9. This team is definitely capable of winning this game outright if they can get a big performance or two, which makes the +9 too enticing to pass up.