By Aaron Jackson,
I’ve heard a few Celtics fans saying that all is forgiven when it comes to the regular season after beating the Indiana Pacers…and I think that’s laughable. Yes, they won a first round series. No, it doesn’t prove anything. The Pacers were, if not the worst team in the playoffs, the second worst. Without Victor Oladipo this was just a first round opponent without any ability to advance. The fact that the Celtics dispatched them in four games is nice, but nothing to write home about.
But this weekend begins the series where they can actually atone for their lackluster, we’ll care when it matters, regular season. The Milwaukee Bucks are LEGIT. If the Celtics are to win this series they’re going to need to actually play a full 48 minutes, something I haven’t seen them do much this season. That means that proverbial “switch” will need to be fully flipped. Here are the five things I think need to happen in order to move to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Marcus Morris is vital to this series: I truly believe a lot of their success will depend on him with Marcus Smart out. Giannis Antetokounmpo is impossible to stop, but it is possible to contain him. If Boston is to keep him off the foul line and out of the paint I think Morris needs to bring his A-game defensively. Say what you want about Semi Ojeleye, but I think Morris is the defensive stopper that will be tasked with containing the Greek Freak.
Try and keep help defense on Giannis to a minimum: What makes Milwaukee so good starts with him, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Khris Middleton headlines the supporting cast, but they’re loaded with guys that can just flat out shoot. The key to stopping them is most aren’t great at creating their own shot, and rely on Giannis to draw the defense in. Getting a hand in their face and not allowing open looks might be the key to this series.
Celtics need to make their threes: The Bucks strategy on defense is to limit chances near the rim, and let their defense work it’s way out from there. In the regular season that paid off to the tune of the #1 defense in the NBA, but it also shows a glaring weakness; no team in the NBA allowed more open 3’s, and more 3 point makes, than the Milwaukee Bucks. So Boston will get plenty of open looks.
Can Al Horford take advantage of Brook Lopez?: That leads me to the next point. Brook Lopez is, and always has been, an absolutely atrocious defender and rebounder. It’s the reason why he’s now played for 3 teams in the last 3 years. He’s 7 feet tall, and yet is averaging under 5 rebounds a game this season. The question is, can Al Horford take advantage? Unfortunately I’m not sure if the answer is yes. Against Indiana he averaged only 11 points per game, and shot 34 percent from the floor. Gross. Given Indiana has better defensive bigs in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, but Horford will need to be MUCH better in this series if the Celtics are to win.
Will Kyrie Irving play hero ball, or will he be a true point guard?: When Irving puts up 30-plus points against a playoff team the Celtics have gone 5-6. Not good. They are clearly at their best when the ball is moving fast, with every player feeling more involved in the offense. That doesn’t mean Irving needs to put up 15 assists every game, but if he spends 18 seconds of the shot clock dribbling around on a consistent basis that will be a problem for Boston.
Aaron Jackson is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.