We’re not sure what their mindset may have been, but we’d venture to say the Boston Celtics may have been brimming with confidence, and perhaps even arrogance, as they captured a road win against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first game of their Eastern Conference series.
But that has turned around quickly, as the Bucks have won two straight, including a 123-116 victory in Game 3 that was punctuated by a 68-point second half.
Now the Celtics have their backs against the wall, to use a cliche, as they try to avoid going down three games to one. Game 4 starts at 7:05 PM ET at the TD Garden.
In the NBA playoff lines posted at BetAnySports, the Celts are slightly favored:
Boston Celtics -1.5 (-108)
Milwaukee Bucks +1.5 (-102)
Over 221 points (-105)
Under 221 points (-105)
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In Game 3 the metrics here weren’t bad for Boston, in a number of respects. Their opponents generally play “soft” against long-range shooters, and they did what you would hope any team would do if they were left relatively unfettered to shoot three-pointers, as they made 40% (16-40). They went an unreal 30 of 32 from the free throw line. They played almost dead even when it came to rebounding. And you couldn’t have possibly hoped for more than for the Bucks to miss a third of their attempts from the charity stripe (24-36).
But the numbers that didn’t work for the Celtics really killed them. Inside the arc they were below 50% (19-41), while Milwaukee was just on fire, making 27 of 46 shots, and some of that is Giannis, who shot only one triple but bothered them enough to get 22 chances at the line. And it was no contest when it came to contributions from the bench, as the Bucks got 42 points and 17 rebounds, while Boston had 16 and nine, respectively.
Is there help on the way for Boston? Marcus Smart, who has been sitting out the playoffs with a torn oblique muscle, has practiced and may be available for Game 4. Officially, he is listed as “questionable.” Would the Celtics put him into the rotation before he was completely ready? Maybe, since the party’s pretty much over for Boston if they don’t win on Monday night. But if Smart is close to being in game shape, he makes a difference; we just don’t know how much or for how long.
“You’re always thinking how it impacts your rotation, who he’s going to play with, how it fits together,” head coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe. He added that in all likelihood, Smart’s minutes were going to be restricted, considering he has not played since April 7, when he tore the oblique.
Any contribution he could make would be welcomed. The Celtics have under-performed on the defensive end; they gave up just 101.3 points per 100 possessions during the regular season. But in this series, that figure has jumped to 107.
Smart isn’t going to go out there and stop Giannis, but he could prove useful against 6-6 guard Khris Middleton, who scored 20 points in Game 3 and has shot 50% from the field over the first three contests.
But again, we don’t know for how long he’ll go.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Brogdon, the former rookie of the year and a defensive stalwart himself, who has been sitting out the post-season with a foot injury, has been practicing as well, although he will not suit up for Game 4. However, since he’s been participating in five-on-five drills, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that you’ll see him in Game 5.
We believe at that point the series will be even. Smart’s appearance is meaningful, from a morale standpoint as well, but as far as the figures, Boston’s 19-4 ATS mark with Stevens at home in post-season play isn’t something that can be ignored. And do you think these officials are sending Giannis to the line 22 times again? We doubt it.
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