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Friday, May 13, 2022

Celtics Avoid Elimination, Defeat Bucks in Milwaukee to Tie Series at 3-3

One of the paradoxes of the NBA playoffs is that home court advantage is significant in the long run over a large sample size of games, but within the confines of a series between two evenly matched teams either team can win on the road. The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks each won 51 regular season games, they tied their regular season series at 2-2, and now they are tied 3-3 in their second round best of seven series after Boston won 108-95 in Milwaukee. The teams could not be more evenly matched, yet this playoff series has had some anomalies: three of the games have been decided by at least 10 points, and the road team has won four games. 

Jayson Tatum led Boston in game six with 46 points on 17-32 field goal shooting, including 7-15 from three point range. He also had nine rebounds, four assists, and a game-best +21 plus/minus number. Giannis Antetokounmpo nearly matched Tatum shot for shot (44 points on 14-30 field goal shooting), but the difference is that two other Celtics scored more than 20 points but no other Buck scored more than 17 points. Jaylen Brown had 22 points on 7-16 field goal shooting, and Marcus Smart added 21 points on 8-16 field goal shooting. In contrast, Jrue Holiday scored 17 points on 7-17 field goal shooting, and Pat Connaughton contributed 14 points on 6-8 field goal shooting. The absence of injured All-Star Khris Middleton was keenly felt by the Bucks in this game, and has been a significant factor as the Bucks' 2-1 series lead slipped to a 3-3 tie.

Antetokounmpo had a game-high 20 rebounds, becoming the first player to have a 40-20 playoff game since Shaquille O'Neal did it in the 2001 NBA Finals versus the Philadelphia 76ers. Antetokounmpo shot 14-15 from the free throw line and he had a team-high six assists. It is not reasonable to expect more from Antetokounmpo, but the Bucks must get more from his supporting cast.

Milwaukee has won twice in Boston during this series, and Milwaukee won game seven in Brooklyn during last year's playoffs, so we know the Bucks are capable of beating the Celtics on Sunday. However, the most difficult road game to win in a series is game seven. In my 2022 Playoff Predictions, I picked the Bucks to win the NBA title but I also sounded a cautionary note about the way that they voluntarily gave up the second seed on the final day of the season to set up a first round matchup with the Chicago Bulls: "I do not like the way that the Bucks rested their starters in the final game of the season to 'clinch' the third seed instead of fighting for the second seed, but there is no denying that this looks like a great first round matchup for the Bucks (who may regret not having home court advantage in the second round if they face the Celtics)." I picked the Bucks to win this series in six games, but I again criticized the way that the Bucks manipulated the standings: "As much as I respect the Bucks, I did not like it when they did not play their normal starting lineup in the final game of the regular season, content to lose that game, drop to the third seed, and face the Bulls in the first round even if that cost them home court advantage in the second round. Neither the Nets nor the Bulls offered much resistance in the first round, but now the Celtics enjoy home court advantage in this series. That could be an important factor if this series goes the distance, but I think that both of these teams can win on the road, and that the Bucks will take the pivotal game five in Boston before winning at home in game six to close out the series."

The moment of potential regret for the Bucks that I alluded to before the playoffs began has now arrived, and some might call it karma for messing with the basketball gods by not trying to win the 82nd regular season game. I am not one of those analysts/commentators who changes his predictions after every game during a series. I picked the Bucks to win the series in six games, which will not happen, but I still believe that the Bucks are the slightly better team and that they will find a way to win game seven. 

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:57 PM



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