Boston-Milwaukee has yielded an expected result through the first two games, though we probably didn't get there taking the expected path.
The Bucks dominated Game 1 before the Celtics retaliated with a resounding Game 2 performance. With the series tied at 1-1 heading to Milwaukee, what trends did we see that could possibly decide the next few games?
Do the Celtics need Smart?
In the spiritual sense, the Celtics definitely need “the spine” of their time as Hubie Brown called Marcus Smart. He was instrumental in clinching a sweep against the Brooklyn Nets as the Celtics initiator and, most importantly, main defender of Kyrie Irving.
Smart is one of the best at bullying guards in the league – his main draw to winning this season’s Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s quick, strong, and annoying. He never stops coming at his matchup, not unless he starts getting into some foul trouble.
But against the Bucks, there really isn’t anyone for him to pester. Sure, the Bucks have Jrue Holiday – their second leading scorer in the playoffs so far at 18.0 ppg. But Holiday isn’t the most efficient and consistent scorer, shooting 39.7 percent from the field in the playoffs.
With Smart reportedly nursing a shoulder and thigh injury that caused him to miss Game 2, the Celtics could take every precaution and have him sit Game 3 as well. This freed minutes for the bigger Grant Williams, who offers another large body to throw in front of Giannis Antetokounmpo and more accurate spot-up shooting (21 points with six 3-pointers in Game 2).
The Giannis Rules
With Milwaukee trailing by double-digits for most of Game 2 and eventually losing by 23 points, you’d be forgiven if you thought Giannis Antetokounmpo had a bad game. But the two-time MVP still feasted, dropping 28 points with nine boards and seven assists.
So far, Boston has whipped out two strategies most often used against Giannis. In Game 1, they goaded Giannis into passing out to his teammates by leaving shooters semi-open. After getting beat by the Bucks’ snipers, they tightened their perimeter defense and dared Giannis to drive into the lane against one or two big bodies. Though Boston won, Giannis still got to his spots – he just didn't get enough support from his misfiring teammates.
This game that Boston’s playing is dangerous. If Giannis got a few more early shots to drop, he could have carried their offense alone again. But those are the types of risks necessary to stopping an all-time great. If there’s a team built to contain the Greek Freak, it’s Boston and their numerous mobile centers and big forwards.
Jaylen Brown coming alive?
The biggest overreaction from Boston fans after Game 1 came from Jaylen Brown’s weird game. He finished with 12 points on 4-for-13 shooting with seven turnovers. He also looked lost on defense. The game freed up for Brown in Game 2 as he scooped up 30 points on an easy 11-for-18 shooting night.
This would have been a tough series for Brown had Khris Middleton been available. Without the Bucks’ other All-Star, Brown has had to play more of a roaming role in trying to stay with Milwaukee’s shooters.
Brown’s talented enough to figure his role out within this series. He’s been Boston’s Swiss army knife all season, providing everything from playmaking to defense. He was playing like an All-Star all throughout the second half of the season.
In a series where they need to flex their depth, Brown putting on his cape and transforming into Boston’s second superstar is crucial. Tatum is a marked man and Boston’s designated finisher. But Brown could be the hammer that smashes this series wide open if he has a couple of more performances like Game 2.