Series Preview: Celtics vs. Bucks

BOSTON – It’s go-time. Celtics versus Bucks in the first round of the Playoffs.

Boston relies heavily on its defense and a team-oriented offense. Milwaukee, meanwhile, has been hampered of late by poor defense and relies on its superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, to carry the load.

Two very different teams, but two very talented rosters, and that will lead to a very entertaining series to watch. Here’s how the two teams match up from top to bottom.

Head Coaches – Brad Stevens vs. Joe Prunty

Brad Stevens has the clear advantage over Joe Prunty in nearly every tangible aspect. Stevens owns a 221-189 career regular-season record and has won 11 playoff games. Prunty, who is Milwaukee’s interim head coach, has only coached 37 career games (all this season) and won 21 of them.

Stevens is regarded as one of the top coaches in the league when it comes to in-game adjustments and game-to-game adjustments. Prunty, meanwhile, made his name as an assistant coach for 19 seasons, including this season before his promotion. Prunty has been an assistant on 13 playoff teams, including three that went to the Finals and two that won the Finals.

Point Guards – Terry Rozier vs. Eric Bledsoe

The winner of this matchup between two relatively inexperienced postseason players could determine the result of a couple of games in this series.

Rozier is filling in for the injured Kyrie Irving. Rozier has started in 13 straight appearances, and as a starter this season, he averaged 15.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game over 16 contests. Rozier has scored more than half of his points this season from beyond the arc, where he shot 38.1 percent. However, he has struggled to finish inside the arc, having converted on only 41 percent of his 2-point shots.

Bledsoe, acquired early in the season from Phoenix, has been everything the Bucks could have asked for. He averaged 17.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game over 71 contests with Milwaukee, all while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from long distance.

Both point guards are two-way players who will cause issues for each other at both ends.

Shooting Guards – Jaylen Brown vs. Tony Snell

Of these two players, Jaylen Brown is clearly the player who has a stronger reputation. Snell, however, is not a player who should be overlooked.

Snell shot 40.3 percent or better from long range both this season and last season, and he made 46.7 percent of his 3s during four games against Boston this season. He is also a strong and versatile defender. At 6-foot-7, he can switch onto nearly every position.

The same can be said about Brown, who also stands at 6-foot-7. Brown has quickly gained a reputation as one of the top wing defenders in the NBA; he finished this season ranked second among qualifying players in lowest field goal percentage allowed at 38.1 percent, second only to Anthony Davis, according to Second Spectrum.

Brown is no doubt the more well-rounded player. He shot 39.5 percent from long distance this season and he can beat defenses in a variety of ways. Brown has elite quickness and athleticism off the dribble, he can post up, and he can score in the mid-range.

Small Forwards – Jayson Tatum vs. Khris Middleton

Jayson Tatum and Khris Middleton serve as their respective team’s starting small forward, but both of them will log minutes at shooting guard, small forward and power forward during each game of this series.

Tatum might make a real name for himself during the postseason. He is a long, athletic and skilled forward who has averaged 17.5 PPG and shot 50.7 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point range over his last 11 contests. With Irving sidelined, Tatum is now a focal point of Boston’s offense.

Middleton might be the key to Milwaukee’s offense. Yes, Antetokounmpo is the superstar, but Middleton is the spacer who also serves as a facilitator. Middleton is a career 39.1 percent shooter from long distance, although he shot only 35.9 percent this season. Boston got a close look at his all-around game earlier this month, when he pushed for a triple-double April 3 with 20 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

Power Forwards – Al Horford vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Al Horford and Giannis Antetokounmpo are both max-level players, but for very different reasons.

For the Celtics, Horford does all of the little things that help them win. As Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said earlier this season, “(He) impacts winning at the highest of levels.”

He does so by setting great screens, by hitting open shots, by always being in great position on defense and by making great decisions. Horford also shot a career-high 42.9 percent from 3-point range this season and led Boston’s well-rounded rebounding attack by a wide margin with 7.4 RPG. Horford averaged 18.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game this season against Milwaukee.

Antetokounmpo’s numbers are much gaudier, as he finished fifth in the league this season with an average of 26.9 PPG. He averaged 33.5 PPG against Boston this season, including a 40-point outburst on Dec. 4.

The good news for Boston? Despite Antetokounmpo’s success against the C’s, Horford has proven to be one of the most capable defenders in the league in regard to consistently challenging the Greek Freak.

Centers – Aron Baynes vs. John Henson

Aron Baynes is coming off of a career-best performance during Boston’s season finale, when he was the only member of the starting five who played. Baynes dominated the Nets to the tune of a career-high 26 points that went along with 14 rebounds.

Baynes won’t rack up numbers like that against the Bucks, but finishing the season with such a performance was clear evidence as to how his activity on the glass and his confident mid-range shot can affect a game. He also happened to lead the NBA in defensive rating (minimum 50 games) this season with a mark of 97.0.

Henson is a long and rangy defender, but he is the defensive anchor of a team that just allowed Philadelphia to score 135 points Wednesday night. He has the ability to alter shots off of help defense, and he’s a strong threat on rolls to the rim, as well as on the offensive glass. Like Baynes, scoring is not his forte, as his season-high mark in that category was only 19 points.

The Bench Units

Boston’s bench is highlighted by two proven veterans in Marcus Morris and former Bucks big man Greg Monroe. Milwaukee’s group of reserves is headlined by 2017 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon and former No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker.

Morris has averaged 18.6 PPG since March 14, which coincides with Irving’s departure from the lineup. Monroe, meanwhile, is coming off of his best five-game stretch with the Celtics, during which he averaged 14.4 PPG and 7.2 RPG, shot 67.5 percent from the field, and recorded a triple-double.

The rest of Boston’s bench is young and inexperienced. The top candidates are Shane Larkin, Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele and Abdel Nader.

For the Bucks, Parker has become their wild card. He averaged 19.5 PPG during his final six games of the season, including a 35-point outburst on April 1. He comes off the bench, but he’ll play 30-plus minutes per game for Milwaukee.

Brogdon, Tyler Zeller, Jason Terry and Matthew Dellavedova are other reserves who have proven to have the ability to affect games with their skill sets – and, in Dellavedova’s case, with his ability to get under people’s skin.