By Chase Whitney- In the, what feels like, the 19 weeks that have passed since the Celtics and Bucks each won their first-round series’, all that’s been talked about is how even of a matchup this series is.
The Horford-Lopez matchup, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s versatility, Hayward’s bench scoring, Khris Middleton the Celtic Killer, The Rozier-Bledsoe rematch, were talking points.
But as it always does in the NBA, none of that mattered as soon as the game tipped-off.
Of all the results for Game 1 that I’d gone through in my head, the Celtics controlling 95% of the game and winning by 22 was not one of that I thought possible. It’s clear that what I think, does not matter, because there were only a few minutes of this game that held any doubt of who was going to win. The Bucks scored just 17 points in the opening quarter, and apart from some runs in the late-second and early-third, the Celtics held a comfortable lead the whole way through.
I don’t think this fact could be overstated; Al Horford is by far the most important player on the Celtics. Kyrie is going to get his buckets no matter what, that’s a given. What happens every time the Celtics play as well as they did today, though, is Al Horford emerges as the clear second-option. He put up 20pts, 11rbs, and 3blks. Horford’s ability to switch every high ball-screen is crucial to success against a team of shooters like Milwaukee.
Kyrie and Horford are going to pick-and-pop the Bucks until they are blue in the face. Horford either ends up with a wide-open three, or Kyrie is one-on-one going to the rim, both of which qualify as Extremely Good Shots in my book. Until they can truly put a stop to that, the Bucks are gonna need to score a lot of points to win games. A lot.
Obviously, Giannis isn’t going to be a -20 in the box score and go 7-21 from the floor (5-10 FT) in Game 2 (or possibly ever again). He did go 3-5 3PT Sunday, which is a sign that he could come back with vengeance on Tuesday. I’d be shocked if he goes for anything less than a 30-point double-double.
But as long as the Celtics can ensure that nobody else kills them (Khris Middleton, specifically), Giannis playing like an MVP candidate is fine. Let him get his, and then force a guy like Bledsoe to get the rest. I’ll take my chances on that, especially with Terry Rozier on the sidelines.