The Boston Celtics (41-16, 30-26-1) face off against the Milwaukee Bucks (39-17, 31-23-2 ATS) tonight at 7:30 in a major heavyweight bout. Both teams are in their own class at the top of the East and come in scorching hot, with the Bucks winning 10 straight and the Celtics winning six of their last seven. If both teams remain atop the conference by April, this game could have massive seeding implications. The Bucks trail the Celtics by 1.5 games and will play them again on March 30th.
According to online sportsbook BetOnline.ag, the Bucks are 8.5 point favorites.
Point Spread: Milwaukee Bucks -8.5
O/U: 225 points
ML: Bucks -385, Celtics +315
The star-studded event many basketball fans were hoping for will unfortunately be derailed by injury. Alongside Marcus Smart (ankle) and Jaylen Brown (face), Jayson Tatum (non-COVID illness) has been ruled out. Robert Williams III and Al Horford are also questionable, meaning there’s a chance the entire starting lineup misses tonight’s contest. Grant Williams and Malcolm Brogdon have been upgraded to available.
For Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) is listed as probable. Bobby Portis (knee) is out along with Jae Crowder, the team’s recent trade deadline acquisition. He is expected to join the team after the All-Star break. Pat Connaughton (foot) will be a game-time decision.
Celtics Projected Starters
PG: Derrick White
SG: Payton Pritchard
SF: Sam Hauser
PF: Al Horford
C: Mike Muscala
Bucks Projected Starters
PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Pat Connaughton
SF: Grayson Allen
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: Brook Lopez
Boston Celtics Overview
Over the last month, the Celtics have been resilient in the face of injury. Tatum sitting out tonight is a huge blow, but the team is coming off a win against the Grizzlies where he shot just 3-16 from the field. While the Grizzlies are currently going through a rough stretch, that game saw eight Celtics finish in double figures against a really tough Memphis defense. Derrick White is leading the way on offense, winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week after posting 24.5 points, 7.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds across four games. He has been massive since Marcus Smart went down, and the C’s need him to keep it up if they want to win tonight.
To make up for the Tatum loss, the Celtics need to space the floor even more than they typically do, which is why the Mike Muscala trade comes in handy tonight. The big man is shooting 40% from three with both Oklahoma City and Boston, and while on OKC, the Thunder’s net rating dropped from +3.0 to -8.1 when he was off the floor. Put simply, the guy can shoot, and giving him bigger minutes tonight will draw Brook Lopez out of the paint on defense and free up drives for other players.
Milwaukee Bucks Overview
It’s no coincidence that since Khris Middleton returned, the Bucks have rattled off 10 straight wins and counting. The SF has been working his way back from a knee injury, and although he’s coming off the bench for now, his presence on the floor has greatly elevated a Bucks offense that struggled for most of the season. Over the last 10 games, the Bucks offense is ranked 7th in the NBA. Both his return and the improved play of offseason addition Joe Ingles mean the Celtics can’t just zero in on Antetokounmpo at all times on the defensive end.
The Bucks are also a strong team against the three, which may create problems for Boston. On top of strong rim protection from Lopez and Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have held opposing teams to 34.6% from beyond the arc, tied for third-best in the NBA. The Bucks’ stars should power them past a depleted Celtics team tonight, but they can put away the game quicker if they force bad nights from Hauser, Muscala, and the rest of Boston’s shooters.
Every Bucks and Celtics game going forward — both in the regular season and potentially in the Eastern Conference Finals — should be a back and forth brawl between the two best teams in the NBA. This will probably not be that type of game. The Celtics depth pieces have proved they can battle against anyone, but with at least three starters out for Boston, I’m taking Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Bucks 113, Boston Celtics 101