It's Time for Milwaukee To Meet the Healthy Celtics
BOSTON – Here’s a warning ahead of the Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup between the Celtics and the Bucks: Do not read into Boston’s 1-2 record against Milwaukee during the regular season.
Throw those results out. They truly don’t matter. And here’s why: injuries.
Boston was missing at the very least one significant piece of its rotation during all three of its matchups against the Bucks this season. In fact, the Celtics were forced to use three different starting lineups during the three matchups.
During the first matchup, a four-point win, they were missing Jaylen Brown. During the second matchup, a 13-point loss, they were missing Al Horford, Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris. And during the third matchup, a one-point defeat that went down to the wire, they were missing Baynes and Gordon Hayward.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, used the same starting five for all three games and, after remaking its bench around the trade deadline, had the entirety of its reserve group available for the final matchup of the season.
Still, with an inconsistent lineup from top to bottom, the Celtics were a bucket away from going 2-1 against the league’s best team. Now they get to attack Milwaukee with a consistent lineup after a mini training camp.
Boston played all four of its games against the Pacers with the same, healthy, eight-man rotation. That rotation opened with a starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Brown, Jayson Tatum, Horford and Baynes, and continued with Hayward, Morris and Terry Rozier coming off of the bench. All eight of those players are healthy and ready to roll for Sunday’s Game 1. All eight of those players will have been together for a week of practice and prep time before Game 1.
Boston’s consistent lineup and perfect health – with the exception of Marcus Smart, who is out with a left oblique tear – has allowed the team to fall into a rhythm that it had previously never experienced. Players are now excelling in their accepted roles, and the team is operating like a well-oiled machine at both ends of the court.
“Just the more time that you spend together out there on the floor,” said Jayson Tatum, “that’s the best way to build chemistry and build a rhythm, knowing that’s the group that’s going to be out there the majority of the Playoffs.”
Now there certainly could be lineup changes for Boston during this series. Namely, Semi Ojeleye could see significant playing time thanks to his ability to make life difficult on leading MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Smart could return to the lineup at any point of the series.
While those two scenarios could come to fruition, they don’t change the fact that the Celtics are healthier and more cohesive than they were at any point this season, and in particular, during the three instances in which they faced the Bucks.
At this point, the Celtics know exactly what the Bucks look like on the court at full strength, but Milwaukee has no clue what Boston looks like on the court at full strength.
That’s why those first three games between these two teams really do not matter when it comes to Boston’s chances in this series.