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Playoffs 2019

NBA Playoffs 2019: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Boston Celtics series preview

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Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving [NBA Getty Images]

The first round is coming to a close as some teams have already punched their ticket for the Conference Semi-Finals.

NBA.com is your destination for complete coverage of every series from now through the end of the NBA Finals.

Series Schedule

The series schedule has not been announced yet but Milwaukee has homecourt advantage and the series will begin at Fiserv Forum.

  • Game 1 - TBD at Milwaukee
  • Game 2 - TBD at Milwaukee
  • Game 3 - TBD at Boston
  • Game 4 - TBD at Boston
  • Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD at Milwaukee
  • Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD at Boston
  • Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD at Milwaukee

Recapping the season series

Result: Bucks won 2-1

Best game: Feb. 21, 2019 - Bucks 98, Celtics 97

Best performance: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Feb. 21, 2019) - 30 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal

Two of the three games this season between the Bucks and Celtics came down to the final few possessions, but their most recent meeting in February takes the cake for the best showdown.

In the first primetime game following the All-Star break, the Celtics were looking to make a statement for the unofficial second half of the season by taking down the league's top team on their home court. The way these two teams battled, you could tell they were destined to see each other again at a point further down the line.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was the most dominant player in the game per usual but it was Khris Middleton, the same player that did so much damage against Boston in the playoffs a season ago, who put the dagger in the Celtics' hearts in this one.

Al Horford buried a 3-pointer to tie the game with just under a minute to go but on the next possession, Middleton dialled up from long range and got the clutch 3-pointer to fall giving his team a lead with 32 seconds remaining.

Kyrie Irving got a quick bucket and the Celtics were able to come up with a stop, giving them the final possession to try and win the game. Irving attacked the rim again but quality defence from Eric Bledsoe forced an off-balance off-handed floater that missed the mark, giving the Bucks the win and the season series.

Key storyline: Can someone win on the road?

The first round series between the Bucks and Celtics was one of the best in the 2018 NBA Playoffs.

Without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward, Boston gave Milwaukee all they could handle as young guns like Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum rose to the occasion.

The hitch in the series - neither team could win on the road.

The Celtics edged out Game 1 in overtime and took Game 2 with ease to protect home court. The Bucks handled Boston in Game 3 and led by as much as 19 points in the second half of Game 4 before the Celtics made an insane comeback. Nevertheless, Milwaukee got the win on a put-back from Antetokounmpo to even the series.

Boston got Marcus Smart back for Game 5 at the TD Garden, giving his team and crowd the energy boost they needed to take a 3-2 lead. When the Bucks took Game 6 at home, it had become quite clear that the home teams were at a significant advantage.

While anything can happen in Game 7, the Celtics closed out the battle of a series to advance to the next round.

This time around, it'll be Milwaukee who holds home court advantage. The Bucks had the second-best home record in the NBA this season at 33-8. They were also tied for the best road record in the league at 27-14, proving to an extent that they are capable of winning on the road, though playoffs are a completely different beast.

As for the Celtics, they were a solid 28-13 at home but were a mediocre 21-20 on the road - but again, the playoffs are a completely different beast.

If Boston is going to win this series they'll have to find a way to win on the road this time around. If Milwaukee wants to prove they're a serious contender for the NBA Championship, it'll require winning at the TD Garden, one of the loudest crowds the NBA has to offer.

Something has got to give.

3 Players to Watch

Khris Middleton

vs. Boston in 2018-19 (three games): 17.3 points (36.5% FG, 40.0% 3PT), 8.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals

Middleton was the game-changer for the Bucks in the playoffs last year against the Celtics. The All-Star shooting guard had a breakout series, averaging 24.7 points per game on a ridiculous 59.8% from the field and 61.0% from long range.

It was arguably the best basketball we have seen from him in his six-year career and the Bucks will need more of the same in this series.

Boston has done a significantly better job making things difficult for Middleton this regular season compared to last postseason but his scoring total is still right around his average for the season.

According to NBA.com, the Celtics have used Marcus Smart as Middleton's primary defender on 49 possessions, the most on the team, and it's likely they'll be without Smart for at least the start of the series. That could mean Jayson Tatum becomes Middleton's matchup, and on the 44 possessions Tatum defended him in the regular season, Middleton was 1-for-7 from the field scoring just three points with one turnover.

The Bucks' sharpshooter has been solid in the postseason thus far but an uptick in scoring (averaging 19.0 points per game) wouldn't hurt against a Celtics team that is significantly better on offence than the Detroit Pistons.

Eric Bledsoe

vs. Boston in 2018-19 (three games): 11.3 points (44.4% FG, 25.0% 3PT), 3.3 assists, 2.7 rebounds

Bledsoe was the opposite of Middleton in the playoffs last year, taking a step back from his performance throughout the regular season.

He was held to under 10 points in three of the seven games in the series, often being outplayed by Boston's fill-in starting point guard Terry Rozier. After some back-and-forth trash talk between the two guards, Bledsoe had stepped up his play in the slightest but the Bucks still needed more from him.

The Celtics did a good job of defending Bledsoe again this regular season, as all the numbers above are significantly worse than his averages for the year.

Luckily for Milwaukee, Bledsoe has been one of their most consistent players so far this postseason as he's been stuffing the stat sheet posting 19.3 points, 5.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game.

With the uncertainty of Malcolm Brogdon's return Bledsoe's offence remains important, but where he'll be needed most is trying to disrupt the rhythm of superstar guard Kyrie Irving.

Gordon Hayward

vs. Milwaukee in 2018-19 (two games): 14.5 points (37.5% FG, 36.4% 3PT), 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists

Hayward has been the X-factor for the Celtics this season and when he's playing well, the team usually wins.

He's finally hit his stride toward the back end of the season and looks more and more like the player the Celtics paid him to be each time he steps on the floor.

In fact, Boston is 7-0 this season in games that Hayward has scored 20 or more points. He was fantastic in Game 4 to close out the series against Indiana, scoring 20 points on nine shots, giving his team the boost they needed off the bench to advance to the next round.

It was a tale of two different performances against Milwaukee this season - in the game, Hayward played that the Celtics lost, he scored 11 points on 3-for-13 shooting. In the win, he had 18 points, five assists and four boards while knocking down three 3-pointers.

According to NBA.com, Hayward has been defended by Middleton on 49 possessions this season. Of those 49 possessions, Hayward was 0-for-6 from the field.

Should the Bucks take advantage of that matchup, Hayward will have to overcome those woes to make an impact.

Fast Facts

- Kyrie Irving's playoff winning percentage of .768 is the highest of any player in NBA history (min. 50 games).

- Following the Celtics' first-round sweep, Irving advanced to 16-0 in his career in the first round of the playoffs.

- The Bucks domination of the Pistons was historical - their plus-95 point differential in a sweep was tied for the second most in NBA history.

- The Bucks advanced out of the first round for the first time in seven consecutive postseason appearances. The last time Milwaukee advanced out of the first round, Giannis Antetokounmpo was six years old.

- The Celtics are 20-14 all-time against the Bucks in the playoffs. In the six playoff series these teams have played against each other, Boston has won five of them.

- This is the third time the Bucks and Celtics have met in the Conference Semi-Finals. Each team has won one Conference Semi-Finals series - the Bucks swept the Celtics in 1983 and the Celtics beat the Bucks in seven games in 1987.

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