Milwaukee at Boston
Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics endured a regular season filled with injuries and were barely above .500 over the final three months. The second-seeded Celtics hope to turn the page from some trying times when they host the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday in Game 1 of a best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series.
Boston, which lost star forward Gordon Hayward (ankle) minutes into the first game of the season, will be without All-Star guard Kyrie Irving (knee) for the playoffs and defensive stopper Marcus Smart for another two weeks, if it lasts that long. “I think the way I look at it is, whether we were 100 percent with all our players or not, we’re coming in really focused in what we need to do and really just focused on Game 1,” All-Star forward Al Horford told reporters. “I really want the guys to understand you’re not going to win the series in the first game, you’re not going to lose it. It’s just being able to stay in the moment and just enjoy this.” The seventh-seeded Bucks split four meetings with the Celtics this season and they have the best active player on the two teams by a wide margin in forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who averaged 33.5 points and 10.8 rebounds in the season series. This is the sixth playoff series between the two teams but the first since the 1987 Eastern Conference semifinals
TV: 1 p.m. ET, TNT, FS Wisconsin (Milwaukee), NBCS Boston
ABOUT THE BUCKS (44-38): Milwaukee is in the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2003 and 2004 and is looking to snap a string of seven straight first-round exits, including a six-game setback against Toronto last spring. “We’re a better team than last year, more mature,” Antetokounmpo told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We’re older and hopefully we can be focused as a team because I think that’s what sometimes lacks on our team. There’s some stages of the game that we’re not focused. I don’t know why that comes to our team, but hopefully this year when we get to the playoffs we can be focused for 48 minutes and do what we got to do and that’s getting the job done.” The Bucks did not have Jabari Parker in the playoffs last year due to an ACL tear but the 23-year-old forward is all the way back from the injury and averaged 19.5 points in April.
ABOUT THE CELTICS (55-27): Boston will lean heavily on second-year guard Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum for scoring, while Terry Rozier – who took over at point guard when Irving was lost for the season – will be trying to prove he can run the show in a more pressure-packed environment. “It sucks to see your brothers go down … but, like I said, it’s not over,” Rozier told reporters. “It’s not going to be an easy road for our opponents. They still have to go through us. We’re ready.” Reserve center Greg Monroe, who spent two-plus seasons with the Bucks before being traded to Phoenix in November, has become a key contributor and averaged 13.5 points on 63.3 percent shooting and 7.7 rebounds in April.
1. Bucks PG Eric Bledsoe averaged 24.7 points in a six-game run from March 30 through April 9, and he was 8-of-9 from the floor in a win over Boston in the middle of that stretch.
2. Rozier shot 10-of-38 from the floor over his last four games of the regular season.
3. Antetokounmpo averaged 24.8 points on 53.6 percent shooting in the first round against the Raptors last season.