After a statement win in Game 1, the Boston Celtics have dropped two straight games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. As trends have dominated the series, the Celtics look to change some of those trends in Game 4. Here are a few things that the Celtics need to do to change their fortune in a must-win game at home.
Close out second quarter and win the third quarter
In each of the first three games of the series, the team who won the third quarter eventually went on to win the game. The first half has been tight throughout the series, and the third quarter has proven to be lopsided.
The Celtics have managed to build leads in the first half of all three games. A key for them will not only be to win the third quarter but also prevent late second quarter runs by the Bucks. With under three minutes left in the second quarter in Game 3, the Celtics had a 53-45 lead but entered halftime with just a 56-55 lead.
Similarly, in Game 2 with less than three minutes left in the half, the Celtics had a five-point advantage. Going into halftime, Boston trailed Milwaukee 59-55. While the Celtics have played well in the first half of all three games, they haven’t finished halves well. An important emphasis for them will be to fix that and finish strong in the first half of Game 4.
Play defense without fouling Giannis
In Game 3, the Bucks shot 36 free throws and were in the bonus for the majority of the second half. By fouling, Boston not only allows free points, but it also takes the crowd completely out of the game. The TD Garden is one of the most hostile environments for opponents, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has completely neutralized it by slowing the game down and drawing fouls.
If the Celtics avoid fouling, they also help their offense by getting out in transition. The Boston half-court offense has been stagnant at times so far in the series, so getting defensive stops without fouling will help its athletic lineup create easy baskets in transition. The emphasis will be to maintain a consistent game flow in order to help the offense and keep the crowd engaged.
Keep the bench scoring close
The Bucks’ bench has dominated the Celtics’ bench, outscoring Boston 42-16 in Game 3. Aron Baynes, Gordon Hayward, and Terry Rozier are the main pieces coming off the bench for Brad Stevens, but they haven’t provided much since Game 1. However, Marcus Smart has a chance to play in this game, while Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogden has been ruled out. This creates a huge advantage for the Celtics.
While Smart is known for his defense, his physical nature opens up the Celtics’ offense as well. Boston also needs Rozier to start performing as he did in last year’s playoffs. He isn’t playing as many minutes and therefore won’t make as big of an impact, but Rozier dominated this Bucks team last year in the playoffs, which resulted in the adoption of his nickname, “Scary Terry.”
Baynes is limited offensively, so as long as he continues to play tough defense, he’ll effectively be able to back up Al Horford. Hayward is likely the key to this bench. After a season filled with ups and downs, Hayward looked to be hitting his ceiling as the year progressed. He has certainly had games where he looks like himself from his days in Utah. Any time he is aggressive, it is usually a good thing for Boston, so it is pivotal for him to accept the challenge of leading this second unit offensively.
If the Celtics can win at least two of these three aspects of the game, they give themselves a good chance of evening up the series before heading back to Milwaukee for Game 5.