Boston Celtics (41-16) at Milwaukee Bucks (39-17) Game #58 2/14/23

In a 2022 Eastern Conference Semifinals rematch and a possible 2023 Eastern Conference Finals preview, the very shorthanded Celtics go on the road to visit the Milwaukee Bucks. This is the second of 3 meetings between these two teams this season. The Celtics beat the Bucks 139-118 in Boston on Christmas Day. They will face off one last time on March 30 in Milwaukee. These teams were 2-2 last season with each team winning at home.

The Celtics are playing in the first of back to back games. They will complete the back to back set on Wednesday when they take on the Pistons at home. The Celtics are 6-2 in the first of back to back games. They are 2-2 when the first game is on the road. The Celtics are 115-110 overall all time against the Bucks. They are 42-69 in games played in Milwaukee. The Bucks have won their last 10 home games

The Celtics are still first in the East, but on the strength of a 10 game win streak, the Bucks are closing in on their lead. The Celtics are just 1.5 games ahead of the 2nd place Bucks going into this game. They are 4 ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia and 5 ahead of 4th place Cleveland. The Celtics are 18-9 on the road and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 24-11 against Eastern Conference opponents and have won their last 4 games.

The Bucks are in 2nd place in the East, just 1.5 games behind 1st place Boston. They are 2.5 games ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia and 3.5 games ahead of 4th place Cleveland. The Bucks are tough at home with a 23-5 record on their home court. They are 10-0 in their last 10 games and they are 21-13 against other Eastern Conference opponents. They have won their last 10 games.

The Bucks are coming off a 3 game road trip where they went 3-0, beating Portland, the Lakers and the Clippers and held all 3 teams under 110 points. After the Celtics, they have 1 more game at Chicago on Thursday before they head to the All Star break. The Celtics just finished a 3-0 home stand and after this game at Milwaukee, they will play back to back, hosting the Detroit Pistons before they head to the break.

The Celtics have a lengthy injury list for this game. Robert Williams is questionable with a sore ankle and Al Horford is questionable with a sore knee). My guess is that one will sit out this game and one will miss Wednesday’s game vs the Pistons. Grant Williams was questionable with swelling in his elbow but has been upgraded to available. Jayson Tatum is out with a non-covid illness. Marcus Smart (ankle), Jaylen Brown (face), and Danilo Gallinari (knee) are all out for this one. Malcolm Brogdon is available in spite of soreness in his Achilles. I really have no idea who will actually play and who will be out at this time. I’m guessing that if Timelord and Tatum are both out along with Smart and Brown then White, Brogdon, Hauser, and Blake will start along with Horford. But, that’s just a wild guess.

For the Bucks, they are in much better health than the Celtics. Khris Middleton has returned to play after missing much of the season so far with a knee injury. He sat out their last game but is expected to play in this game. He has been coming off the bench for them and may or may not continue that trend in this game. Newly acquired Jae Crowder is out for conditioning after sitting out the entire season until now. Bobby Portis, Jr (knee) is also out. Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) and Pat Connaughton (calf) are both considered to be probable.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Payton Pritchard
Luke Kornet
Mike Muscala
Grant Williams

2 Way Players
JD Davison
Mfiondu Kabengele

Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Marcus Smart (ankle) out
Robert Williams III (ankle) questionable
Al Horford (knee) questionable
Grant Williams (elbow) available
Jaylen Brown (face) out
Jayson Tatum (illness) out
Malcolm Brogdon (Achilles) available

Head Coach (Interim)
Joe Mazzulla

Probable Bucks Starters

Bucks Reserves
Thanasis Antetokounmpo
MarJon Beauchamp
Jevon Carter
Joe Ingles
Wesley Matthews
Khris Middleton

2-Way Players
AJ Green
Sandro Mamukelashvili

Jae Crowder (conditioning) out
Bobby Portis, Jr (knee) out
Pat Connaughton (calf) probable
Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) probable

Head Coach
Mike Budenholzer

Key Matchups

Al Horford vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
I am not sure who will start for the Celtics opposite Giannis, but I’m guessing it may be Al Horford. Regardless of who starts at the four for the Celtics, they will have their hands full trying to keep Giannis from having a big game. Giannis is averaging 32.4 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. He is shooting 54.2% from the field and 27% from beyond the arc. In the first game against the Celtics, Giannis finished with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists. He shot just 40.9% from the field and 20% from three. Limiting Giannis will go a long way toward getting a win in this game.

Derrick White vs Jrue Holiday
Holiday is averaging 19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 46% from the field and 36.8% from beyond the arc. In the first game between these two teams, Holiday had 23 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. Derrick White has been playing very well for the short handed Celtics and they will need even more from him in this game with so many players out.

Honorable Mention
Blake Griffin vs Brook Lopez
Lopez is a key player for the Bucks. He is averaging 14.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 2.5 blocks. He is shooting 4.9% from the field and 37.5% from beyond the arc. Along with being their rim protector, he is a threat from the perimeter. I’m not sure who will start at center but I’m guessing it will be Blake Griffin.

Keys to the Game
Defense – Defense is always the biggest key to winning. Defense really does win championships. The Bucks have been winning games with their defense. They are 2nd with a defensive rating of 109.7. The Celtics have climbed up to 4th with a defensive rating of 110.5 but their defense has not been consistent. The Celtics must work harder than the Bucks on defense and keep their focus on the defensive end so as not to allow any easy baskets for the Bucks.

Rebound – Next to defense, rebounding is always a big key to winning. The key to rebounding is effort and focus. When the Celtics increase their rebounding effort, it usually improves their play in other areas as well. The Bucks are a good rebounding team with 49.1 rebounds per game (1st) while the Celtics are 6th with 45.1 rebounds per game. The Bucks are 35-8 when they have more rebounds than their opponents and just 4-9 when getting out-rebounded. The Celtics must out work the Bucks on the boards if they hope to get a win in this one.

Stay Focused – A lack of focus can explain a lot of the Celtics problems when they struggle. They lose focus and turn the ball over time after time during stretches in the game. They also lose focus and struggle to hit shots that they would usually make. At times they also lose focus on defense and miss assignments and allow opponents open shots on the perimeter and easy shots inside. The Celtics must stay focused and take care of the ball, focus on taking and making good shots, and focus on playing tough team defense.

Be Aggressive – The short handed Celtics have to be the more aggressive team in order to have a chance to beat a mostly healthy Bucks team. They have to be more aggressive in going for loose balls and in crashing the boards. They have to be more aggressive on defense and they have to be aggressive in going to the basket and not settling for 3’s if they aren’t falling. They can’t allow the Bucks to play harder than them.

Hospital Celtics – The Celtics have 3 players out, one doubtful, 2 questionable and one probable. They will likely be missing 4 starters. They are facing a mostly healthy Bucks team that is very tough, even when the Celtics are fully healthy. Every player has to step up and play their very best and play as a team. It would be nice if the Bucks underestimate the Celtics due to the injuries but since the Celtics beat them soundly on Christmas Day and also in last year’s playoffs, I’m doubtful that will happen.

Officiating – The officiating can always be an x-factor. Some referees call the game tight and others let them play. Some favor the home team and others call it evenly. Some refs just seem to have an agenda that doesn’t fit the play on the court. And sometimes the refs are simply atrocious. Giannis seems to always get more than his share of calls as he plows through players on his way to the hoop, leaving bodies in his wake. The Celtics have to play through however the refs call the game, whether it is tight or they let them play or they make terrible calls. The Celtics can’t allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on the game.

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