With the Celtics and Bucks cruising through their respective first round matchups against the Nets and Bulls, it’s now time for the best of the East to face off. In four regular season matchups Boston and Milwaukee split the series 2-2. Boston took the first two games and then Milwaukee held serve. Interestingly enough, they’ve only played one game since the start of 2022 so a lot has changed from the majority of their head to head film. Still, let’s compare these teams side by side to see who has more advantages.
Star power- Bucks
-Without Khris Middelton this is a toss up that could go either way. The duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were fantastic in the regular season and even better in the first round. I would take Brown over the Bucks number two Jrue Holiday but the gap isn’t very large. Tatum is on his way to superstardom with his elite combination of a skilled scoring arsenal, refined playmaking, and versatile defense. However, Giannis is already there. Having that certified superstar who we know can carry the load is enough to give the Bucks the edge.
Role players- Celtics
-In between the stars and end of the bench players are the role players that swing a series. In this case, the Celtics role players offer pristine defensive capabilities and valuable offensive skills. Horford, Smart, and both Grant and Rob Williams make up so much of what makes this Celtics defense elite. On the other side, Milwaukee’s role players in Portis, Connaughton, Allen, and Lopez make up one of the NBA’s best core of role players too. This is a tough choice but I prefer the Celtics because of how well each of them star in their role.
-Depth and role players may seem like the same thing but they aren’t. When evaluating depth it’s best to look at the quantity of role players and not the quality. Due to injury, both Middelton and George Hill will miss some games if not the entire series. For this reason the Celtics look to have the depth advantage. They have a rotation of nine players you can trust while the Bucks are down to seven to eight.
-Boston had a perfectly easy time dealing with the Nets from a size and rebounding standpoint. This is an advantage that they won’t have so easily against the Bucks. Not only does Giannis frequently attack the middle but they also have Lopez who can be a bruiser when they need him to be. Portis is another guy who scraps on the boards and can be an enforcer of sorts inside. While the Celtics certainly have sizable bodies to defend in Williams and Horford but they won’t pose the interior presence the Bucks can offer on both ends.
-To keep this one brief, the Bucks shot the three ball at a 36.6 percent rate while the Celtics were at 35.6 percent. May not seem like a major gap but it was the difference between the sixth best three point shooting team and the 14th in the NBA. The Bucks roster additionally offers four rotational players that shot it 36 percent or higher while the Celtics have two on the current roster.
-This one might be a surprise and understandably so. The Bucks are known for Giannis and Lopez punishing teams inside the paint. However, the Celtics actually have more high level finishers outside of just their big men. Boston has six players who shot over 70 percent at the rim while the Bucks offered just four of players who get minutes.
Interior defense- Bucks
-Both of these squads offer terrific rim protection with multiple deterrence points at the rim. The Bucks have Lopez to draw in wannabe drivers with his drop coverage. They’re then met by Giannis and his all time great weak side rim protection. When the Celtics allow a drive to the rim, Williams is there to clean it up with his excellent shot blocking. Horford is also a very good post defender. It’s a tough call in this category but I prefer the all time nature of the Greek Freak’s interior defense.
Perimeter defense- Celtics
-Not only is the Celtics switching defensive scheme outclass that of the Bucks but the quality of their on ball defenders make a major difference too. Smart, White, Tatum, Brown, Grant Williams, and Horford can all lockdown certain positions and this leads to opposing offenses being put in a straight jacket. Milwaukee has Jrue Holiday to guard the perimeter but him and other slightly above average perimeter defenders isn’t enough to topple the Celtics.
-Maybe this is too prisoner of the moment but Ime Udoka truly deserves everyone’s respect. He received so much backlash for the Celtics disappointing outcomes in the first portion of the season. But it was only a matter of time before he put it all together. He’s molded the personnel into an elite defense which they weren’t before he got here. Budenholzer made underrated adjustments in last year’s playoffs but Udoka looks to be the better coach in the here and now.
-There’s been a lot of close calls in these comparisons but this may be the hardest of them all. Boston has developed a special culture in the back half of the season. So much so that they’ve won 30 of their last 36 games but the Bucks do have the championship pedigree to rely on. You could go either way but I’ll lean the Bucks because of how they respond as a unit when the odds are stacked against them.
Series prediction: Celtics over the Bucks in seven games