BOSTON (CBS) — The dust has settled from a wild final night of the NBA regular season for the Eastern Conference, and we finally know who the Celtics will play when the postseason tips off this weekend.
While the Celtics’ win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night was fairly meaningless, there were three other games that determined Boston’s first-round foe. The Milwaukee Bucks got trounced by the 76ers in Philadelphia. The Wizards choked and couldn’t beat the Magic in Orlando. The Miami Heat pulled out an overtime win over the Toronto Raptors, who didn’t rest their starters for some odd reason.
Add it all up and the 2-seeded Celtics (55-27 in the regular season) will play Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks when their postseason gets underway on Sunday afternoon. The inconsistent Bucks finished the regular season at 44-38, closing their season with an embarrassing 130-95 defeat against the Sixers.
Boston and Milwaukee split their regular season meetings, though the injury-depleted Celtics look much different now than they did in three of those four matchups. They won’t have Kyrie Irving, as they did in three of the four games, and Marcus Smart won’t be back for another two weeks. That puts the bulk of the pressure on Boston’s trio of rising stars Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatutm this postseason.
The Bucks took the first matchup in Boston on the second night of the regular season, the night after the Celtics fell to the Cavaliers to open the season and Gordon Hayward fell awkwardly on his ankle. Antetokounmpo dropped 37 points off 13-for-22 scoring to go with 13 rebounds, and the Bucks scored 32 points in the fourth quarter while keeping the Celtics off the scoreboard for a five-minute stretch. It was an ugly game for Boston, but they went on to win 16 straight after that defeat.
One of those 16 straight victories came a week later when the Celtics beat the Bucks 96-89 on a throwback MECCA floor in Milwaukee. Al Horford dropped 27 points and nine rebounds while also playing some stellar D on Antetokounmpo. Boston won their next matchup with the Bucks on Dec. 4 in Boston despite Antetokounmpo dropping 40 points, thanks to Irving scoring 19 of his 32 points in the second half. The Celtics also got an all-around night from Horford, who finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the 111-100 Celtics victory. Boston is going to need a lot of those kinds of nights out of Al in the playoffs.
The Bucks won the final matchup of the regular season last week, holding off a late Boston run for a 106-102 victory. The Celtics were without Rozier that night, but got 24 points from Brown and 20 from Tatum. Antetokounmpo had a game-high 29 points, with Khris Middelton adding 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for Milwaukee.
Now the Celtics have to try to contain Antetokounmpo (who averaged 27.1 points per game for the season) over a seven-game series. Despite Horford making him work for his buckets, Antetokounmpo feasted on the Boston D during their four matchups, averaging 33.5 points off 54 percent shooting. Slowing him down is a terrifying task for the league’s best defense, one Brad Stevens should have his roster (or what is left of it) ready for.
But the Celtics also have to worry about The Greek Freak’s supporting cast. Middelton is a talented scorer who averaged 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists in his four games against Boston. The Celtics only saw Eric Bledsoe twice, but he averaged 18.5 points in those two games. Malcolm Brogdon is back after missing 30 games with a quad injury, and averaged 14.7 points in his three games against Boston. If the Celtics focus too much on Antetokounmpo, they’ll get burned elsewhere.
As for who will provide the offensive punch for the Celtics, they’ll rely on their trio of young stars. Rozier averaged just 8.7 points against the Bucks during the regular season, but that was before he blossomed into a star in the starting lineup in place of the injured Irving, averaging 15.6 points in games he’s been in Boston’s starting five. Brown averaged 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in his four games against the Bucks, while Tatum averaged 14.3 points off 50 percent shooting.
It’s certainly not going to be easy for the injury-riddled Celtics, but now is the time for their young players to shine as they try to contain one of the NBA’s brightest stars of the future.