2018 NBA Playoffs, Celtics-Bucks: We’re Just Getting Started (Game 4 Sunday Matinee, Game 5 Tuesday Night)…and Stray Thoughts from Cavs-Pacers

As we head into Sunday’s matinee Game 4 (1PM ET, ABC) in Milwaukee, the series took a somewhat unsurprising turn in Game 3. Game 1 seemed more representative of the talent level of these two teams (minus Kyrie, Smart, and Hayward obviously). A tight, overtime thriller that ended with a Celtics home victory. Game 2 was a lopsided win for Boston in which Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier played with enormous confidence…one might even say swagger.

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A mean deer against a pipe-smoking leprechaun.

Back in Milwaukee for Game 3, the crowd helped propel the Bucks, and seemed to rattle the young Rozier a bit. Much improved for the Bucks: the hot/cold Jabari Parker and enigmatic Eric Bledsoe, whose comment about not knowing who Terry Rozier was stole all clickbait headlines. Rozier looked much more human in Game 3, turning the ball over 5 times before halftime. Khris Middleton’s mid-range and 3-point shooting steadied Milwaukee’s offense in the half-court. Middleton, who struggled for much of the year with his three-point consistency, is a scorching 63% (12 of 19) after 3 playoff games.

With playoff home court physicality thrust upon them, Boston’s offense looked as awful in Game 2 as it has since Kyrie went down. The reason this shouldn’t be shocking is that the Bucks have the length and physicality to defend Tatum, Brown, and Rozier. Al Horford will never be a go-to scorer, even if he’s capable of taking some of the burden off the young fellas. Still, when Boston trailed 40–19 early in the 2nd quarter, it was evident this can easily become a 6-7 game series, as many predicted.

Q. What can Stevens do to juice more offense from Jaylen, Tatum or Rozier as we head into the early start on Sunday?

As with any team, transition opportunities would certainly help. Defense leads to offense, and Game 3’s Celtics grabbed only 3 steals, while they watched the Bucks sink 16 of their 33 three-point attempts. Milwaukee, who turned it over early and often in the first two, took care of each possession, with only 9 turnovers in Game 3. That puts more pressure on the Celtics half-court, which is not a strength without Kyrie Irving unless Jaylen Brown suddenly morphs into a rim-attacking force, which won’t happen on the road where the refs swallow their whistles on penetration. They need to hope some combo of Morris, Shane Larkin and Semi Ojeleye knock down 3s off the bench. They also need to adjust to the Bucks defense. Stevens would love to have Al Horford facilitate from the elbow. Prunty and his staff have held Horford to 9 assists over the first 3 games, though Horford’s offensive rating is by far the best among both teams (146). I’d expect Horford to stay on the court for more than 34 minutes per game. as the series goes forward.

Celtics Rating by Player (thru 3 games) Offensive / Defensive (via basketball-reference)

Terry Rozier 128 / 115

Jaylen Brown 119 / 118

Al Horford 146 / 112

JaysonTatum 93 / 108

Marcus Morris 96 / 117

Aron Baynes 139 / 115

Shane Larkin 95 / 118

Greg Monroe 100 / 116

Semi Ojeleye 98 / 120

Marcus Morris went 5 of 10 from deep in Games 1 and 2. Last night, Morris was charged with three fouls, played only 24 minutes, and shot only 2 of 8 from the field. Other than Rozier and Jaylen, is he the biggest x-factor for the Cs? Veteran leadership and confidence are quite useful in playoff road games, though Morris is perhaps too amped up at times. Still, Morris is the most likely to help swing a game with his shooting, as he did in multiple significant victories over the last six weeks, including road wins in Utah and Portland. Middleton has always had a smooth, long-armed jumper that’s tough to alter or block. Will Stevens turn to Marcus Morris early on for defensive help? If so, he should remain on the court until he fouls out.

Did Aron Baynes really hit two 3-pointers? Did I imagine that? Perhaps the answer to the Celtics offensive woes is Baynes from 30 feet?

A Game 4 Celtics win would bring the series back to Boston with the Celtics up 3–1 and a chance to close out the at home. More likely, we’ll see a physical, ugly Bucks victory (the matinee start time ups the ugly factor), setting up a crucial Game 5 in Boston on Tuesday. We shall see. Still going with Celtics in 6. The way the Sixers are playing, the Conference Semis are looking mighty intriguing.

A Few Stray Thoughts from Pacers-Cavs

Bogdan Bogdanovic is doing his best Reggie Miller imitation, draining threes from 27+ feet out. Bogdanovic looks like Austin Croshere, and my friend Jared informed me they both wear/wore #44. How about that? 30 points on 15 shots and 7 of 9 from deep were an Indiana-valanche that sunk the Cavs in Game 3. Game 4 of that series is also a must-watch.

It becomes increasingly obvious that LeBron may be LeBron but that 25 games is not nearly enough to develop the defensive chemistry playoff basketball demands. Not to mention the overall court-awareness that seems to be lacking from most Cavs. LeBron is all alone, hoping that all non-Kevin Love-three-pointers go in. He can’t trust his teammates because he doesn’t know them. On the flipside, the Pacers are playing wonderfully feisty defense, and swarm the ball and passing lanes. It’s such a tough, collective effort. Fun to see. Thaddeus Young’s arms are very, very, very long.

Pacers in 6.

Sixers in 6.

Raptors in 5 or 6.

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