MILWAUKEE BUCKS at BOSTON CELTICS
Tip-off: Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Boston -3, Total: 197.5
Game 1 in Boston was an overtime thriller, but can the Bucks even the series up on Tuesday?In an NBA Playoffs opening weekend that featured at least as many blowouts as it did remotely competitive game, Bucks-Celtics stood out as the most exciting of all eight contests played on Saturday and Sunday. The Celtics had a 10-point lead with less than five minutes on the clock, but the Bucks tied it with a three-pointer from SG Malcolm Brogdon with 11 seconds left. Celtics PG Terry Rozier then hit what looked like the game-winning three-pointer with half a second left, but Bucks SG Khris Middleton hit a bomb from 35 feet out to send the game to overtime. Boston finally regained control in the extra period, and walked away with a 113-107 victory. Milwaukee shot 48.2% from the floor to Boston's 41.5% mark, but the Celtics held advantages n three-point shooting, free throw shooting, turnovers and rebounding. For Boston, a team playing without PGs Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart—not to mention SF Gordon Hayward—a first-round win now feels like an expectation. But Bucks fans will feel the same, and failure to take advantage of an injured Celtics team in a wide-open year in the East will look like a missed opportunity.
Milwaukee sees huge disparities in performance between when superstar PF Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the floor and when he's on the bench. So, given that it's now playoff time, it was no surprise that he played 45 minutes before fouling out at the very end of overtime in Game 1. He lived up to expectations, putting up 35 points (11-21 FG), 13 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. He's the Bucks' go-to guy no matter who the opponent, but Milwaukee will continue to funnel the ball to him against a Celtics squad without much in the way of rim protection, especially after losing C Daniel Theis to a season-ending injury. Middleton's game-tying three was the highlight of the night, but far from his only contribution, as he played a brilliant second fiddle to Giannis with 31 points (12-20 FG, 5-7 3PT), eight rebounds, six assists and two steals. He played a game-high 47 minutes and was a team-best plus-11 on the floor. The rest of Milwaukee's primary supporting cast, however, failed to show up. PG Eric Bledsoe had nine points and five turnovers before fouling out in OT (and he also was brutally crossed-up on Rozier by the go-ahead shot at the end of regulation. SG Tony Snell had only two points in 33 minutes and was a game-worst minus-17, and PF Jabari Parker only had two points off the bench. Brogdon was the Bucks' best bench player, tossing in 16 points and giving the type of defensive effort that the Bucks wish they could get out of Bledsoe.
The Celtics' undisputed best player with Irving out is C Al Horford, but usually that's expressed through the "little" things—passing, off-ball defense, setting good picks. He filled all those roles to perfection on Sunday, but was also the Celtics' leading scorer, finishing with 24 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. He was beyond efficient, shooting 5-of-8 from the field and 13-of-14 from the foul line. He was one of five Celtics to play at least 35 minutes—no one outside that group played more than 16—and each of those five scored at least 19 points. With 19 exactly was SF Jayson Tatum, who also added 10 rebounds and three steals. The rookie was up-and-down in his postseason debut, but overall quite impressive in the primary playmaker role he's been thrust into. Rozier had 23 points, and hit four of nine threes, including the would-be game-winner and another one in overtime. SG Jaylen Brown had 20 points in a team-high 46 minutes, and he hit two of five three-pointers. His emergence as a reliable shooter from deep in the past couple months opens up this offense in ways that are of crucial importance with Irving out. And with Smart gone, he's probably Boston's best perimeter defender. PF Marcus Morris had 21 points and seven boards off the bench—don't be surprised if he's the Celtics' leading scorer in, say, half their games in these playoffs. He knows how to get buckets and he has a knack for doing so at particularly important moments.