5/8 Game 5 Preview: Celtics at Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks get an opportunity to become the first to reach the NBA's final four Wednesday night when they look to close out the visiting Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The top-seeded Bucks, who haven't won a playoff series from the Celtics since the 1983 East semifinals, will go for a 4-1 win in the best-of-seven, at the same site where they blew out the fourth-seeded club 123-102 last Tuesday.
After Boston had stolen Game 1 on the road, Milwaukee accomplished its series-flipping blowout in large part by harassing Kyrie Irving into just nine points on 4-for-18 shooting.
The Celtics star hasn't been appreciably better since. While he scored 29 and 23 points in Boston's two home losses on Friday and Monday, Irving shot 8-for-22 and 7-for-22 in those games, including a combined 3-for-15 on 3-pointers.
Meanwhile, rival standout Giannis Antetokounmpo has had no such trouble putting the ball in the hoop. He shot 8-for-13 and 15-for-22 in the wins, helping the Bucks outgun the Celtics 50.6 percent to 43.2 in a 123-116 victory in Game 3 and 44 percent to 37.8 in a 113-101 decision in Game 4.
The Bucks know they'll get a visit from a desperate group of Celtics in Game 5, but that doesn't bother Khris Middleton.
"We don't really worry about them at all -- who we're playing against, who they have on their roster and whatnot," he insisted in the wake of the Game 4 win. "All we do is worry about ourselves and our team and what we need to do."
In order for this not to potentially be Irving's final game in Celtic green, Boston must win and get the series back to Boston.
It's not the first time the Celtics have found themselves in a 3-1 hole in their storied postseason history. In fact, of the 11 times a team has rebounded to win an NBA series from such a deficit, the Celtics and Houston Rockets are the only teams to have accomplished the feat twice.
Boston's victim on both previous occasions was the Philadelphia 76ers, in the 1968 East finals and 1981 East finals.
If it's going to happen again, Irving assured he's not going to be gun-shy about taking shots.
"You're being picked up full court. They're doing things to test you. The expectations on me are going to be sky high," he noted at his postgame press conference Monday. "I try to utilize their aggression against them and still put my teammates in great position while still being aggressive.
"I'm trying to do it all. For me, the 22 shots? I should have shot 30. I'm that great of a shooter."
Irving demonstrated that in Game 1, shooting 12-for-21 en route to a 26-point, 11-assist double-double.
But he's gone from double-double to double-teamed in the last three games, with Milwaukee's two-headed point guard tandem of Eric Bledsoe and George Hill combining to outscore him 89-61 and outshoot him 51.5 percent to 30.6.
The Bucks could get back another key guard in Malcolm Brogdon, who has been out since March with a plantar fascia tear in his right foot. He has been nearing a return, but head coach Mike Budenholzer said the team is still evaluating him and will know more on Wednesday.
If a Game 6 is needed, it would be played Friday in Boston.