The 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks are nothing but paper champions, led by a dude that was shut down in the playoffs last season by Semi Ojeleye, and a point guard that has the bark of a Kevin Garnett but the bite/game of a Marcus Banks.
Khris Middleton is a nice little player, but his ceiling in this league is fringe All-Star. He’s already peaked.
And their coach – Mike Budenholzer – makes Brad Stevens look like Red Auerbach in terms of postseason NBA success. Budenholzer you’ll remember was out-schemed by the likes of Frank Vogel and Scott Brooks in the playoffs during his time in Atlanta, and absolutely crumbled at the sight of LeBron James and a guy named Kyrie Irving whenever the calendar flipped to May.
Now based on all of the mainstream NBA chatter, calling the Celtics the sure-fire favorites in this upcoming Eastern Conference semi-final series may initially sound crazy. But we in Boston have seen how this sort of thing plays out before.
Playoff experience matters in the NBA. Like … a lot.
The Celtics know this first-hand as they were knocked out of the postseason by LeBron’s Cavs in three of the past four years. In one of those years (2017), they were the top overall seed in the East. Didn’t matter.
Last year the Celtics were again the higher seed, facing the No. 4 seeded Cavs – who looked like trash for much of the regular season. Again – didn’t matter.
With the playoff-tested Irving now at the forefront of the Celtics ship for the first time in the postseason, the shoe is now on the other foot. The Celtics are now the cagey, old wise men in the East. And the Bucks are the team with a recent embarrassing early playoff exit, and the team that still looks one player away from truly being thought of as a legit title contender despite the fancy No. 1 seed title.
Of course, plenty of people are throwing cold water on the notion that the Celtics have actually found a cure for whatever it was that caused so much unrest during the regular season.
I’m hearing a lot of, “Yeah. They beat the Pacers. Congratulations.”
But it was the way in which they dismantled Indiana that made me believe that the C’s truly have “flipped the switch.”
Boston trailed in the second half of each of the four games against Indiana. That’s actually a good thing.
In other words, they were punched in the mouth in every single game. Unlike the regular season C’s, the 2018-19 playoff Celtics responded with an even bigger haymaker every time they were dealt a blow.
That is an exceptional sign for any playoff team.
And then there is the eye test.
Irving looked “right” against Indiana. When the Celtics needed him to take over a game, he was there to do so. When they needed him to be a facilitator, he was there to do so.
Gordon Hayward also finally looked “right.” He attacked the basket in a way we haven’t seen since he was wearing Navy & Gold in Salt Lake City, and he looked extremely fluid on both ends of the floor.
In the Celtics’ seven game triumph over the Bucks in the first round last year, the C’s of course didn’t have Irving or Hayward.
It’s hard to believe the addition of two All-Star talents, both of whom have more postseason experience than Giannis, doesn’t outweigh the improvement of the Milwaukee big man from one year to the next. Even if he is the MVP.
Celtics in 5.