Notes from the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs, Eastern Conference.
Bucks-Celtics – The Bucks need win only one game in Boston to take this series, so Sunday’s overtime loss can be filed for what it was — a good effort, a tough loss, in which Celtics point guard Terry Rozier (23 pts, 4 for 9 from three) hit three big threes in crunch time, one with barely a second left in regulation to put the Celtics up three, 99-96. Rozier struck again in the overtime, hitting a contested three to get the Celtics on the board and a 104-103 lead.
The Game 1 heroics of Kyrie Irving‘s backup should ensure that Rozier’s Bucks counterparts, Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon, won’t fall a step behind the rest of the series, not that the Bucks switching defense makes match-ups predictable. Brogdon was often found trying to check Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (19 pts, 10 rebs) on Sunday, just one of many unfortunate outcomes of the Bucks defensive schemes throughout the game. Jaylen Brown, the other Celtics wing forward added 20 points and Marcus Morris dropped 21 on the Bucks off the Celtics bench.
Can the Celtics count on 83 points per game from Rozier, Tatum, Brown and Morris the rest of the series? The quartet averaged a combined 53.3 per game during the regular season, and tend to go through stretches where they struggle to score. You’ve gotta like the chances of the Bucks, finally playing with their full roster for the first time this season, prevailing in this series.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton – The Bucks forwards combined for 66 points on 50 shooting possessions (shot attempts + trips to the FT line), terrific offensive efficiency. They only turned the ball over 7 times between them while dishing out 13 assists (6 for Khris and 7 for Giannis),
generating a whopping 86% of the Bucks offense, in addition to hauling in 21 rebounds — monster numbers that begged for a hot hand teammate to help them out.
Bledsoe and Tony Snell were 0 for 5 from three, and Jabari Parker — 2 points in just 14 mins of action — missed the only downtown look he had. Middleton said he should have been an All-Star this season, and he certainly played like one on Sunday.
Discipline, 50-50 plays and rebounds – Tatum scored 19 pts on 18 shots Saturday and Brown missed 10 shots, so the Bucks weren’t too bad there — they outshot the Celtics 48% to 41%. The Celtics won by winning the 50-50 plays and taking advantage of an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers by the Bucks. The Bucks can cut down on turnovers and sloppy play and expect better games from Bledsoe the rest of the series, but the 50-50 plays and rebounding may be a different story. The young Celtics were just quicker to the ball than the Bucks, beating the guys in dark green to the one more offensive rebound, one more loose ball, they needed to win. The Celtics and Jazz led the NBA in Defense this season (103.9 pts/100), so the 50-50 hustle is habit for the C’s.
The Celtics scored 22 second chance points off of their 11 OREBs (plus a team rebound), a destructive scoring rate — and those plays killed the Bucks. Bucks center John Henson was credited with six blocked shots but grabbed only 6 rebs in 37 mins — unheard of playing time for Henson and terrible rebounding for a big man. To paraphrase Red Auerbach and countless coaches through the ages — “If you didn’t get the rebound, you didn’t play defense.”
Giannis vs. Al Horford vs. the referees – Giannis shot 16 free throws (made) in Game 1, but there were calls he didn’t get, including a charging call drawn by a clearly moving Marcus Morris in the 4th quarter, the 4th foul on Giannis in a game he would foul out of in the overtime. Jason Phillips, the referee who kicked Steph Curry out of Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals, made that call and a few others that were questionable.
Phillips, in his 19th NBA season, missed last year’s playoffs due to injury. Nothing really stands out about Phillips’ stats at basketball-reference.com. Game 1 crew chief Mike Callahan, in his 28th season, is one the 5 most experienced refs in the NBA, but has appeared slow and out of shape this season, at times laboring to keep up in a league where the pace has picked up in recent years. Both Callahan and Phillips were Finals refs in 2016, and Callahan refereed the 2017 Finals —
so the Bucks and Celtics, ostensibly, got the cream of the crop of NBA officials in Game 1. Yet somehow, both teams could hope for better officiating in Game 2.
Horford shot 14 free throws and missed only one. Horford is a tough defender, a 10-year veteran who knows how to work the refs. Horford, the Celtics and the referees offer a good test of Giannis’ mettle, if not quite a test of his greatness, and challenges Giannis will have to figure out to get his team through the series. . Whether or not the 23-year-old star can lift the Bucks into the next round is THE question in this series; the answer will either cement or cast doubt on his status as superstar in the NBA.
(Note that Bucks nemesis Mark Davis isn’t scheduled to work tonight’s games, so there’s a chance he could be in Boston for Game 2 on Tuesday. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, as Davis’ m.o. is to balance games for the visiting teams while inciting the rage of home crowds).
Tyler Zeller and Thon Maker — While Henson logged 37 minutes, Zeller played all of 4:28 seconds and Maker got a DNP from interim coach Joe Prunty. Henson was visibly exhausted in the 4th quarter and played just 13 seconds of the overtime, as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Al Horford went head-to-head at center. No, Bucks GM Jon Horst didn’t help his team out by acquiring a real big man down the stretch, but there was no need for Prunty — who in all likelihood won’t be coaching the Bucks next season — to emphasize this problem in Boston. If only for the playoff experience, Thon should play in this series.
Heat-Sixers correction – From last weekend’s preview post: “I doubt they make it back to
Miami Philadelpha for a Game 6 Game 5.” The way the Sixers are rolling, winners of 17 games in a row, I don’t see the Heat winning a game in this series. Sixers center Joel Embiid is expected to play in Game 2 tonight (Monday), which should at least give Heat coach Erik Spoelstra a reason to play Hassan Whiteside, who saw only 12 minutes of action in Game 1. The Heat weren’t sure Whiteside was going to be ready to play at all in the game.
Gamebooks and other links
- Bucks vs. Celtics official scorers’ report, Game 1, 04/15/18 -Â http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180415/0041700111_Book.pdf
- NBA Official – official.nba.com
- Referees index at http://basketball-reference – https://www.basketball-reference.com/referees/