Extra Pass: Gear up for Celtics vs. Bucks

Published February 14, 2023, 9:00 PMMiguel Flores

This will be an exciting matchup between two of the East’s top teams.

What's up with the Celtics?

Boston has again found their groove this season after a worrying stretch. They’ve earned a four-game winning streak and have won six of their last seven games.

They've done this with Marcus Smart out with an ankle injury and Jaylen Brown missing the last two games due to a facial fracture. Even with the lack of personnel, the Celtics have been able to stay connected on defense and draw big performances from their role players.

They’re the top team in the league with a 41-16 record. They have the fourth-best offense and defense by rating. The shorthand in NBA circles is, to be a true championship contender, a team needs to at least be in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive ratings.

Boston’s chemistry and defensive versatility cannot go understated. With players like Al Horford and Robert Williams, Boston’s interior defense crushes most teams while staying flexible enough to shut down perimeter threats. Without Smart and Brown, Derrick White and the returning Malcolm Brogdon give the Celtics enough to contain the best guards in the league.

Jayson Tatum is this team’s MVP candidate, but their recent run shows why the Celtics have such a high ceiling compared to other teams in the league. There are still a few Big 3 constellations in the league but the Celtics show that having depth is the route to winning games.

What’s up with the Bucks?

The Celtics are the clear top dogs in the East but they do not have the force that Milwaukee can bring in a seven-game series. As good as Tatum has become, Giannis Antetokounmpo is still the best player in the world.

In a season where his championship-winning All-Star teammates in Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton have spent extended time on the mend, Giannis has turned his game up another level. He’s averaging career-highs in points at 32.4 and rebounds at 12.4, which also leads the league. He's led the Bucks to a 39-17 record, just 1.5 games behind the Celtics for the top seed in the East.

Antetokounmpo covers up plenty of ills for Milwaukee but they’ve also received some much-needed help from Brook Lopez, who is living up to the Splash Mountain monicker, averaging 2.5 blocks and 3.7 triples per game. In a relatively quiet season for the underrated Jrue Holiday, he’s still averaging 19.1 points and 7.1 assists. When Khris Middleton starts ramping up his play, the Bucks are going to be near unstoppable.

Celtics-Bucks was low-key the best series of the 2022 playoffs. It went seven games with both teams having to pull off late-game heroics to come away with iconic wins. This season, it still seems like the path through the East will run through both Milwaukee and Boston. If either the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Philadelphia 76ers want to enter the party, they’ll have to take down these two juggernauts.

Where to watch

This is going to be the game to watch tomorrow on the NBA’s Valentine’s Day slate. Catch it live on NBA League Pass and Smart LiveStream at 8:30 AM.