The #3 Milwaukee Bucks are one win away from clinching a berth in the Eastern Conference finals when they host Game 6 against the #2 Boston Celtics. Meanwhile, the Celtics find themselves in a do-or-die elimination game on the road after a heartbreaking loss in the final minute of Game 5 in Boston.
The winner of the Celtics/Bucks series will meet the top-seeded Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. The #1 Heat needed six games to knock out the #4 Philadelphia 76ers, and achieved the final knock-out blow on the road in Philly in Game 6.
The Bucks opened as a -1.5 favorite at home in Game 6.
The NBA revealed referee assignments for Friday’s games. The universally-loathed Scott Foster is the crew chief, along with Eric Lewis, Ben Taylor, and Tre Maddox (alternate). When teams are behind in a series, they are 20-5 straight up when Foster is the official. This bodes well for the Celtics.
DraftKings updated its NBA series markets, and the Bucks are -240 odds to win the series and advance to the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics are +200 odds to clinch the series by winning Game 6 on the road and then taking Game 7 at home in Boston on Sunday.
This series followed a zig-zag pattern after the Bucks won Game 1 in Boston. The Celtics tied the series at 1-1 with a victory in Game 2. The Bucks won Game 3 in Milwaukee to regain the lead 2-1, but the Celtics tied it again at 2-2 with a win in Game 4. The Bucks won Game 5 on the road to take a 3-2 series lead.
Bucks can clinch in Beer Town
The Bucks are one win away from returning to the East finals, which they’ve managed to achieve without Khris Middleton in the lineup. When the Bucks lost games to the Celtics, it was obvious that they missed Middleton — especially on defense. Although Middleton doesn’t get the same accolades as Jrue Holiday, Antetokounmpo, or Brook Lopez.
Holiday had one of his best playoff games as a member of the Bucks in Game 5. He knocked down a huge 3-pointer and blocked a shot in the closing minute to help deliver a comeback win for the Bucks.
The Bucks are thrilled to steal a win, but they don’t want the victory to go to their head.
“You can’t get too high for this,” said Antetokounmpo. “Obviously, it’s great to win the game and great to go back home and feel good about ourselves, but the job’s not done.”
All eyes are on Antetokounmpo and Holiday, but it’s the team’s role players who need to step up if they want to close out the series on their home court and avoid a Game 7 in Boston. Bobby Portis played big minutes when Mike Budenholzer opted for a bigger starting lineup after Middleton went down. Portis helped seal the victory in Game 5 with a put-back on a missed free throw by Antetokounmpo. In the last few games, Grayson Allen started and Portis came off the bench.
Antetokounmpo averages 33.6 ppg against the Celtics this round. He notched 40-plus points in two out of his last three games, while averaging 38.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game.
Celtics: RW3 question mark
Boston big man Robert Williams III is questionable for Game 6. He sat out the last two games with a bone bruise after a painful collision with Antetokounmpo in Game 3.
“He got his knee scanned and everything structurally is good,” said head coach Ime Udoka. “Looks fine. The swelling went down but he still had some soreness and pain. Revealed that he has a small bone bruise from collision he took in Game 3. Structurally he’s fine from the surgery is just that’s where the swelling and soreness came from.”
Udoka inserted Grant Williams into the rotation to fill in for RW3, and he’s held his own against Antetokounmpo.
The Celtics have a specific mission in Game 6: slow down the Freak. The Celtics employed a wall-like defense that the Phoenix Suns unleashed in last year’s NBA Finals. When Antetokounmpo brings the ball up the court, he has to navigate through a 1-2-2 zone defense if he wants to get to the basket. The wall sounds great in theory, but wasn’t much of an impediment when Antetokounmpo scored 40 points in Game 5, and 42 points in Game 3.
After getting held to 10 points in Game 3, Jayson Tatum averaged 32 points and eight rebounds in his last two games. His 3-point shooting has been cringe-worthy, but the Celtics need a prime-time performance out of Tatum if they expect to stay alive. Jaylen Brown averaged 22.6 and 6.6 rebounds in this series as the “two” in Boston’s one-two punch with the Tatum/Brown tandem.
Veteran Al Horford, who had a magnificent Game 4 to help tie the series at 2-2, averages 15 ppg and 9.2 rebounds as the starting center this series. Point guard Marcus Smart bounced back from a thigh contusion and is averaging 14.8 points and 5.6 assists per game this series.
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