Eastern Conference Semifinals – Game 3 — Series tied 1-1
No. 1 Milwaukee at No. 4 Boston (-2/220), ESPN, 8:05 p.m. ET
April 30 – Bucks (-7.5) 123 vs. Celtics 102 (Over 219.5)
April 28 – Celtics (+8) 112 at Bucks 90 (Under 223.5)
Feb. 21 – Bucks (-6) 98 vs. Celtics 97 (Under 227)
Dec. 21 – Bucks (-1.5) 120 at Celtics 107 (Over 223.5)
Nov. 1 – Celtics (-2) 117 vs. Bucks 113 (Over 220.5)
The Bucks rebounded nicely from a dreadful Game 1 by posting a 22-point rout of the Celtics in Game 2, scoring 33 more points than they produced in the series opener.
They’ll now take the floor at TD Garden hoping the adjustment period that lies ahead doesn’t trip them as drastically as it did to open the series. Because Blake Griffin was missing in the first two games of the first round, Milwaukee didn’t really get much of a challenge against Detroit. I believe that did it a disservice in Game 1 and may make it more difficult to get settled in a hostile arena against a team that can really feed off their crowd in a way the Pistons couldn’t.
Celtics-Bucks definitely has the punch-counterpunch feel of a series that’s destined to go the distance.
Although Giannis Antetokounmpo took the brunt of the criticism for the Game 1 loss since he shot 7-for-21, Eric Bledsoe deserved the most blame because he shrunk and did so early. He was the first Bucks player subbed out and could never get comfortable against Kyrie Irving, ultimately finishing 1-for-5 from the field in a dreadful effort in which he gave his team nothing. If Bledsoe isn’t out there pushing pace so Antetokounmpo can run the floor, the Bucks are ordinary. A Celtics team with a defensive anchor like Al Horford can make life difficult.
Bledsoe was much better in Game 2, finishing a plus-23 by scoring 21 points and adding five assists. It might surprise you to find out that Milwaukee’s plus-minus leader in their series-tying victory was George Hill, who came off the bench and defended as the glue guy in a unit that helped pull away from the Celtics in the third quarter. Brook Lopez hasn’t had the impact that he enjoyed during the regular season so far in the series, so we’ll see if he’s able to have more of an impact on the road.
Irving was outplayed on Tuesday night, shooting 4-for-18, while Jayson Tatum played poorly in finishing 2-for-10. He’s missed 13 of 17 shots in this series. Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier shot 9-for-16 from the field off the bench in the win, combining for 24 points, but shot 3-for-15 in Game 2. Getting back home should help all those guys bounce back. Boston has won four of its last five home games but hasn’t played on its floor since a 99-91 Game 2 win over the Pacers in first-round action.
Milwaukee has more road wins than anyone except Golden State since the Warriors had to put in extra work at Staples Center to get past the Clippers. It won its last trip into Boston on Dec. 21, winning 120-107 by capitalizing on Horford’s absence. Horford and Morris have been Boston’s most consistent performers thus far in this series, which is key since they’re the duo being tasked with helping to slow down Antetokounmpo.
“Greek Freak” averaged 31 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 59 percent in leading the Bucks to a 2-1 regular-season mark against Boston. He led the way with 29 points on Tuesday in addition to nine boards and four assists and must produce even more if Milwaukee is going to steal back homecourt advantage over the next few days. The 22 points he scored in Game 1 won’t cut it..
Khris Middleton shot just 36.5 percent but averaged 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists against Boston this season. He finished 7-for-10 from 3-point range in Game 2 to deliver 28 points after being Milwaukee’s top performer amid the series-opening disappointment by finishing with 16 points, 10 boards and six assists. Middleton was drastically less efficient on the road during the regular-season than he was at home, shooting just 40 percent from the field. He did shoot 36 percent from 3-point range and averaged 17.3 points, so the Bucks will be counting on him to continue his steady play to give them a boost.
Both teams will press forward without key guards for at least another game with Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart remaining sidelined. Brogdon is out with a foot injury that has kept him out the past few weeks, which means Bledsoe and Hill can expect their normal allotment of minutes. Brogdon, who led the league in free-throw shooting this season while shooting nearly 43 percent and playing fantastic perimeter defense, is nearing a return and is likely to play late in the series. Smart, a tremendous perimeter defender and a competitor whose intensity is infectious, tore his oblique just before the playoffs began. He’s been seen running and is far ahead of schedule but there’s no timetable for a return, which means Milwaukee may miss him altogether.
The Bucks have averaged 122 points in their wins while being suffocated and held to 90 in their lone loss, so their team total being set at 109 seems fitting. Boston’s number has been placed at 111.
Oddsmakers sent out an opening total of 224.5 for Game 1 and saw it close at 223.5 at most books. The number dipped to 219.5 for Tuesday’s game and crept over late. During the season, the pair watched the ‘over’ go 2-1 in their three games and the totals ranged from 220.5 to 227.5. The ’under’ went 5-1 in that 2016 series between Stevens’ Celtics and Budenholzer’s Hawks despite no total closing higher than 206 and the last two winding up sub-200.
It was rare to see the Bucks listed as underdogs this season as they’ll be in that role for the first time since April 10 loss to Oklahoma City. They’ve performed well in the role, going 6-3 straight up and 7-2 against the spread while the ‘over’ went 7-2 in those games. You can also toss out one of the losses as the Bucks rested Antetokounmpo near the end of their schedule.
Despite the solid numbers when catching points, Chris David of VegasInsider.com believes Boston’s recent playoff pedigree at home justifies them being a favorite in Game 3.
“Going back to last year’s improbable playoff run with an undermanned roster, Boston went an eye-opening 12-1 both straight up and against the spread at TD Garden. To be fair, they did get a lucky cover in Game 2 of the first round against Indiana but a win is a win and we can’t dismiss this run. In case you forgot, the lone loss in 2018 came against LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals when the young Celtics couldn’t buy shot from the outside,” said David. “Since Brad Stevens took over as head coach with Boston, the club has gone 19-9 SU and 21-7 ATS in 28 playoff games at home.
“Since I mentioned the loss to Cleveland last season, it’s important to know that six of the nine losses came against LeBron and his Cleveland-led teams. In other matchups, Boston went 16-3 both SU and ATS at home under Stevens in the postseason,” added David. “Four of those victories came in the first round of the playoffs last season against the Bucks with the outcomes decided by an average of 10.3 points per game.”
Officials for this game, Ken Mauer, Tony Brown and Kane Fitzgerald, aren’t shy about blowing their whistle and becoming part of the show. All have seen the ‘over’ prevail in the majority of their contests. Game 4 will be played Monday night in Boston, so a miserable, angst-filled weekend awaits the loser.