Celtics vs Bucks series preview, best bet

The Celtics earned one of the most impressive first-round series wins in recent memory as they swept the preseason title favorites Nets. Then a date with defending champion Bucks, who looked like he was dominating himself to close out the Bulls in the first round.

Here’s our preview and best bet for this series, thanks to the odds of the score bet and Sportsbook Bar Stool:

#2 Celtics (-220) vs. #3 Bucks (+175)

TEAM RECORD TTY H2H NET RATING SERIES LINE
Celtics 55-31 46-37-3 2-2 +7.4 (2nd) -1.5 (+104)
deer 55-32 42-45 2-2 +3.2 (8th) +1.5 (-136)

When you sweep the preseason title favorite with a clutch shot and stifling defense, it’s hard to bet against you. Such is the case with the Celtics, who put the league on notice with a four-game win over the Nets to clinch their ticket to the second round.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a hard-fought series — those four contests were decided by a total of 18 points — but Boston looked very impressive in the first round, especially defending superstar scorers Brooklyn. The Cs held Kevin Durant to just 38.6% from the field, his third-worst performance on record in a playoff series and worst since 2016. Boston also limited Kyrie Irving (21.3 PPG) well below his average of the season (27.4) and a total of 46 points over the last three games of the series.

Their next test is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who led the Bucks to five straight playoff victories dating back to the last playoffs. The reigning NBA Finals MVP was a one-man wrecking squad in the final three games of Milwaukee’s series victory over the Bulls, who limped by the end without their top two perimeter defensemen and one of the league’s top scorers in Zach LaVine.

The Bucks won’t be full for this series either, as Khris Middleton (knee) will likely miss the entire second round after sitting out the last three games. Without Middleton to pressure the C defense as a secondary scorer, Boston is free to flood Antetokounmpo with multiple defenders, much like what they did to disrupt Durant in the first round.

It’s not just volume that determines the Celtics’ defensive approach. That group features two elite defensemen in Marcus Smart, the first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year honors since 1996, and Robert Williams, who was among the favorites to win the award before a season-ending injury. Those two will be crucial in slowing down the Bucks’ two-time MVP, which has historically wreaked havoc on Boston in the playoffs.

If the Celtics can prevent Antetokounmpo from winning the series single-handedly, they have the depth and top-notch talent to clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. Since Jan. 23, when Smart returned from a long injury, Boston has gone 32-7 and outscored opponents by 13.9 points per game. This team also had the highest offensive rating in the NBA (122.6) and third-best defensive rating (109.9) from the All-Star break to the end of the regular season, even with Williams sidelined for the final seven games.

Jayson Tatum posted some superstar moments against the Nets, averaging 29.5 points and winning Game 1, while running mate Jaylen Brown had at least 22 points in all four competitions. Brooklyn didn’t have the defensive chops along the perimeter to match their size and shooting prowess – but does Milwaukee have them? With the Bucks missing their best wing defenseman in Middleton, there just isn’t enough body to throw at Tatum or Brown without leaving Milwaukee’s defense vulnerable to the other.

There’s always a chance that Antetokounmpo will make all of the above obsolete, and that’s the risk you take when betting against an all-time great. But this Celtics squad is shaping up to be one of the most complete playoff squads we’ve seen in a while, and it won’t take them seven games to prove it once again.

Best bet: Celtics -1.5 wins (+104)

C Jackson Cowart is a sports betting editor at theScore. You can follow him on Twitter (@CJacksonCowart) or email him at [email protected]