The Milwaukee Dollars held lots of the playing cards going into the final day of the steady season.
They had been within the East’s No. 2 slot, one recreation forward of the Boston Celtics, however knew Boston held the tiebreaker. The Dollars noticed the Brooklyn Nets lurking as a probably bad No. 7 seed.
The Dollars successfully conceded their ultimate recreation towards the Cleveland Cavaliers, sitting all their key regulars save for Jrue Vacation — who performed 8 seconds prior to committing an intentional foul so he may log his 67th recreation, and cause a $306,000 bonus. Through doing so, Milwaukee foisted a nasty selection onto the Celtics: If Boston beat Memphis in its finale, it could leapfrog Milwaukee into the No. 2 spot — risking that matchup towards Brooklyn. Lose to the Grizzlies (who had not anything to play for, and rested all 5 starters), and the Celtics — assuming a Philadelphia 76ers win over the Detroit Pistons — would fall to No. 4. That intended a chain towards the Toronto Raptors, amid rumblings no less than one key Boston participant was once now not absolutely vaccinated — and thus ineligible to play in Toronto.
Boston gained, and were given that No. 2 seed — and a date with the Nets. The Dollars have shyed away from Brooklyn, however their gambit price them home-court merit on this mega-series. For the second one consecutive postseason, it is imaginable Milwaukee is taking part in the “real” NBA Finals in the second one spherical — handiest this time with out Khris Middleton for no less than the primary a part of the sequence as he recovers from a leg harm. (I am much less satisfied of the “real NBA Finals” framing this time round, given how nice the Phoenix Suns were when wholesome and the Golden State Warriors now rampaging at complete throttle.)
Boston has been via a long way the league’s very best crew since Jan. 1. It’s 38-12 in that span, and has outscored fighters via about 12.5 issues in keeping with 100 possessions. The rest over double digits suggests ancient dominance. The No. 2 crew in that reach — Phoenix — was once plus-8 in keeping with 100 possessions. For the season, the Dollars are plus-3.2.
Jayson Tatum was once the most productive participant (via so much) in a chain that includes Kevin Durant. If he is the most productive participant on this sequence, Milwaukee is in hassle. With Middleton out, the Dollars want Giannis Antetokounmpo at his height to overcome Boston 4 instances in seven tries — with a possible Recreation 7 at the street. They want him to be the most productive participant via a at ease margin. Antetokounmpo is clearly succesful, even towards a Boston crew that has extra choices protecting him than some other opponent. He’s the league’s maximum harmful two-way participant — a two-time MVP and reigning Finals MVP who seems to have conquer his loose throw problems and will toggle between all 3 front-court positions.
If there’s a participant who can remedy Boston’s impenetrable, ultra-switchy protection, it’s Antetokounmpo.
That protection has gotten lots of the consideration all the way through Boston’s upward thrust, however the Celtics even have the league’s No. 2 offense over the ones 50 video games. It’s smartly constructed to prod Milwaukee’s stout protection. The Dollars prioritize proscribing photographs on the rim and loose throws; the Celtics do not rely a lot on both. They had been twenty second in each loose throw price and share of makes an attempt within the limited house, in keeping with Cleansing The Glass.
Boston takes a just right quantity of lengthy 2s and a whole lot of 3s — a prerequisite for having any likelihood towards Milwaukee. Best the Miami Warmth allowed extra 3-point makes an attempt than Milwaukee. The Dollars reside with a definite choice of semi-contested (and every now and then uncontested) above-the-break 3s. It’s the price they pay to barricade the paint. To upend them — to show math towards them — it’s important to make a forged choice of the ones 3s. You will not outduel the Dollars on the rim, and you probably may not make sufficient lengthy 2s to warp the maths on your want. (For this reason the 3-phobic Chicago Bulls had been drawing useless towards Milwaukee within the first spherical.)
Boston isn’t an ideal long-range capturing crew. It begins one overall non-shooter (Robert Williams III, assuming he returns to the beginning lineup) and two so-so shooters — Marcus Good and Al Horford, each round 33% from deep — round Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Derrick White has struggled on 3s. Grant Williams has been a revelation from deep this season, however the Dollars are most probably keen to peer how actual this is. (It appears actual from right here.)
Be expecting the Dollars to dare Horford, Good, White, or even Grant Williams to release — to every now and then go away them open, shut out handiest midway, perhaps get of their heads in the event that they pass over a pair in a row. At the turn aspect, if the ones guys hit sufficient open 3s, the Celtics will have to be in just right form — and the Dollars would possibly have to regulate.
The Celtics have most well-liked to play huge, with two of Williams, Williams III, and Horford at the flooring at nearly all instances. They’ve hardly ever needed to downsize, moving Brown or Tatum to energy ahead as a way of boosting their capturing. Taking part in huge has fortified Boston’s protection and rebounding. It’s going to be fascinating to peer if Milwaukee can nudge them into smaller lineups in any respect, and if it could even subject. (It gave the impression for a little after the White industry that Boston’s last 5 could be Good, White, Brown, Tatum, and Williams III, however we’ve now not observed a lot of that staff. Horford and Williams were too just right.)
Boston compensates for so-so capturing with side-to-side motion, professional shotmaking from its stars, and copious mismatch searching — with the objective of having a smaller guard switched onto Tatum. Within the regular-season, Tatum participated in pick-and-rolls (as both screener or ball handler) with Good and Brown about 11.5 instances blended in keeping with 100 possessions, in keeping with 2nd Spectrum. That skyrocketed to about 25 such pick-and-rolls in keeping with 100 possessions within the first spherical towards Brooklyn; the Nets presented Tatum his choose amongst a number of undersized guards. (Boston may be the use of the Tatum-White and Tatum-Payton Pritchard combinations extra.)
Tatum and Brown cooperated in additional off-ball screening movements when Brooklyn stashed a smaller guard on Brown.
The Tatum-Good two-man recreation has been the famous person of the display. Within the steady season, Boston averaged 1.4 issues in keeping with ownership on journeys that includes any Good ball display for Tatum — No. 1 amongst all mixtures with no less than 100 reps, in keeping with 2nd Spectrum. The inverse — Tatum screening for Good — has change into most likely Boston’s go-to play, and it posted even fatter numbers towards Brooklyn.
In principle, defenses will have to duck below Tatum’s choices for Good — inviting Good to release, and keeping off any deadly transfer. The Dollars shall be higher about that than Brooklyn was once. However Tatum has made that tougher via rolling proper into Good’s guy, and dragging that man into the paint — forcing the transfer:
This type of mismatch chasing will have to now not paintings as smartly towards the Dollars. They’re larger than the Nets. They do not play a standard level guard. However Tatum has had no problems going at Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, and George Hill (if he performs.) Jevon Carter defends above his dimension, however he is no fit for Tatum. Even Wesley Matthews is at an obstacle in velocity, agility, and dimension.
Tatum too can assault Lopez in usual pick-and-rolls, and rain jumpers if Lopez sags again too a long way.
And with Middleton out, the matchup cat-and-mouse recreation will get trickier for the Dollars; they’re down a wing defender. The Dollars were beginning a larger lineup of Matthews, Vacation, Antetokounmpo, Bobby Portis, and Brook Lopez. They’ve unquestionably mentioned tweaking that forward of this sequence, however the more secure guess is Mike Budenholzer sticking in the beginning with what labored towards Chicago.
Matthews and Vacation have break up the Tatum task up to now. It could be ideally suited to have some other switchable defender on Good — to change the Tatum-Good dance — however that is more difficult to control with this huge lineup. If Vacation and Matthews are on Good and Tatum, that implies Antetokounmpo has to protect Brown. The Dollars have most commonly stored Antetokounmpo clear of Brown and Tatum, in order that he can rove as a assist defender. (He is higher at that than at navigating displays towards slippery wings.)
In opposition to the Bulls, Milwaukee had Antetokounmpo shield Chicago’s so-so capturing level guards — Alex Caruso, after which Ayo Dosunmu. They will mimic that towards Boston, and open with Antetokounmpo on Good — permitting Vacation and Matthews to shield Tatum and Brown. I would guess that is how Milwaukee starts issues: Antetokounmpo on Good; Portis on Horford; Lopez on Williams III; and Vacation and Matthews flip-flopping between Boston’s All-Stars.
In that alignment, Antetokounmpo will combine issues up towards the Tatum-Good two-man recreation. Once in a while, he will duck Tatum’s choices for Good. Once in a while, he will transfer. When Tatum is the ball handler, Antetokounmpo would possibly drop again like a standard middle. With out Middleton, Antetokounmpo must guard Tatum and Brown no less than a little — both on switches, or from time to time as his number one task — for Milwaukee to win. (Vacation may even guard Good right here and there.)
Regardless: Every time Antetokounmpo is on one among Good, Brown, or Tatum, be expecting Boston to run him via a gauntlet of displays and cuts.
In fact, we will be able to see Antetokounmpo as a part of lineups huge, small, and medium sized. Heck, the Dollars may switch Allen (taking part in so smartly presently!) in for Portis within the beginning 5 — making a extra conventional two-big lineup by which Antetokounmpo would shield Horford.
The Dollars will use the Antetokounmpo-Portis duo when Lopez rests, and smaller lineups that includes 4 guards and Antetokounmpo at middle. In each the ones structures, Antetokounmpo would possibly shield the opposing middle (Williams III or Horford) to stay him close to the rim.
(Pay shut consideration to the mins Antetokounmpo rests. Boston has to win the ones. At complete well being, the Dollars would have each Middleton and Vacation at the flooring in the ones stints — and no less than two in their huge 3 at the flooring all the time. Now they have got to live on stretches with just one, and the ones non-Antetokounmpo mins will also be fraught on offense. They function a whole lot of Vacation-Lopez pick-and-rolls.)
Lopez is a good shooter, however now not an ideal one. He normally tests in round 35% on 3s, with a slowish unencumber. (Beware his languid pump-and-drive recreation, even though! It is sneakily efficient.) Boston’s protection took off when trainer Ime Udoka made the radical number of stashing Williams III on nook shooters, permitting him to roam the baseline as a shot-blocker.
Lopez incessantly serves as a supersized spot-up risk, every now and then from the corners. Boston may stay issues easy, and get started Williams III on Lopez, letting them mess around with Horford’s task. Williams III is speedy sufficient to waft from Lopez, in a position to pounce within the paint, and nonetheless get well to run him off the arc.
Lineups with out Lopez — with Portis and Antetokounmpo in combination, or Antetokounmpo as the one huge — bump up Milwaukee’s general capturing. Milwaukee would possibly wish to maximize its capturing to win this sequence, even though it manner chopping into Lopez’s mins rather.
The Celtics’ best seven is big. They’re lengthy and good, the league’s very best help-and-recover crew. They are able to colour towards Antetokounmpo with out conceding wide-open 3s anyplace else. Give them one below-average shooter to stray from, and that makes the process even more straightforward — Antetokounmpo’s trail extra crowded.
How the Celtics guard Antetokounmpo is the sequence’ maximum fascinating subplot. They’re probably the most league’s stingiest transition protection groups — diligent in getting again, smartly provided to construct the proverbial wall. One good thing about being large and switchable isn’t being concerned about matchups in transition. Simply choose up whoever is closest, and move from there. (Boston was once No. 2 — at the back of handiest Golden State — in fewest photographs allowed on the basket, in keeping with Cleansing The Glass. At their very best, the Dollars bludgeon the rim.)
Very quietly, Milwaukee’s half-court offense has change into a lot more dependable than two seasons in the past or even all the way through the primary 3 rounds in their identify run final season. Even so, step one to beating them is to defang their fast-break assault.
Brown and Horford have taken the majority of the Antetokounmpo task this season and up to now, however Boston will transfer a ton and provides Good, Williams, and even perhaps Williams III some reps. (Boston has stored Tatum clear of Antetokounmpo.)
I would guess (rather) on Boston opening with Horford on Antetokounmpo; Brown on Portis; Williams III on Lopez; and Good and Tatum flipping between Matthews and Vacation. (They might additionally get started Brown on Antetokounmpo, with Horford on Portis.) The entirety shall be fluid. They will display Antetokounmpo a ton of appears, to take a look at to wonder him and stay him off stability.
Antetokounmpo has change into Milwaukee’s screen-setting hub. When Horford is on him, Boston would possibly transfer or have Horford retreat in a extra standard protection. Horford was once as soon as probably the most league’s closest issues to an Antetokounmpo stopper, however Antetokounmpo solved Horford’s one-on-one protection when Milwaukee obliterated Boston on this identical spherical in 2019. Horford has a greater shot protecting Antetokounmpo in conventional pick-and-rolls.
Antetokounmpo is just too fast for Horford one-on-one. He can (now and then) overpower Boston’s guards and wings on switches. If Antetokounmpo catches on the fringe of the paint, he can bulldoze even Good or Brown:
Boston will display assist, ship double-teams, entrance the submit, and swarm from at the back of. Antetokounmpo made large strides this season as passer, whipping the ball out of double-teams early — with the protection nonetheless rotating towards him. The Dollars are cagey at chopping all the way through the ones double-teams, together with sneaking alongside the baseline:
(Sure, this is DeMarcus Cousins, Jabari Parker, and Romeo Langford collaborating in a Celtics-Dollars recreation within the present NBA season. The forged of characters who gave the impression throughout their 4 matchups is really outstanding: Cousins, Parker, Langford, Rodney Hood, Juancho Hernangomez, Jabari Parker, Luke Kornet, Sam Hauser, Javonte Good, and others.)
However nearly each and every Boston participant is stout sufficient to no less than make Antetokounmpo paintings and suck up time at the shot clock. In opposition to Chicago, Antetokounmpo jogged into simple mismatches; one downstream impact of getting Antetokounmpo shield Caruso, Dosunmu, and Nikola Vucevic is that the ones guys had been incessantly caught on him after Milwaukee stops. Minus the occasional White or Pritchard mismatch, there is not any such simple prey on Boston.
The opposite thriller is how Boston deploys Williams III when Lopez rests — and when each Lopez and Portis take a seat, leaving Antetokounmpo because the lone huge guy. Will he ever guard Antetokounmpo one-on-one? Boston has resisted that, who prefer Williams III loom because the final defensive position.
However Portis is a greater shooter than Lopez. Sloughing too a long way from him is bad, even for any individual as speedy and hoppy because the Time Lord. Then again, having Williams III keep on with an out of doors shooter is a waste of his rim coverage.
Would he guard a extra desk bound wing — Connaughton, Matthews, or Carter? Possibly. (He may even get started video games on Matthews, since Boston could be positive slotting Tatum onto Portis — leaving Horford on Lopez and Brown on Antetokounmpo. I doubt Boston would move that direction — it quantities to getting too adorable — however that it isn’t outlandish signifies how a lot flexibility Boston has.)
However I would like to peer Boston take a look at Williams III on Antetokounmpo — simply to peer how Antetokounmpo handles his period and jumping talent.
Antetokounmpo with capturing and protection round him is sufficient to make this a aggressive sequence — even with out Middleton, his go-to pick-and-roll spouse. If Antetokounmpo is a professional 70% or 75% loose throw shooter now — his foul capturing has dropped off in previous playoffs — there is no actual method to forestall him from getting 30 issues and consuming across the basket. The one hope is to restrict his potency some, hope the opposite Dollars do not get scorching from 3, and rating beautiful smartly at the different finish.
Boston has the substances to test all the ones bins. Even with Middleton to be had from the soar, I would lean to Boston in an extended sequence. With out him, it is Boston in six.