The Buck won’t stop here: Milwaukee will get past Boston

Giannis Antetokounmpo-Milwaukee Bucks-Boston Celtics-NBA Playoffs-Eastern Conference semifinals-

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are favored by 7.5 points vs. Boston in Game 1 the Eastern Conference semifinals. They're -300 favorites for the series, with the Celtics at +250 on the comeback.

The Milwaukee Bucks vanquished the Detroit Pistons in four games during the first round of the NBA Playoffs, winning by an average margin of 23.8
points per game.

Milwaukee heads to the Eastern Conference semifinals to take on the Boston Celtics. Game 1 is set for Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on ABC.

Most books have Milwaukee (64-22 straight up, 51-31-4 against the spread) installed as a 7.5-point favorite for the series opener. The total is 224 points and the Celtics are +280 on the money line.

The Bucks are the even-money favorites to win the East at Sportsbook. Toronto has +220 odds to make the Finals, followed by Boston (+550) and Philadelphia (+650).

After winning an NBA-best 60 regular-season games, Milwaukee has the second-shortest odds to win the NBA Finals. Sportsbook has the Bucks listed at +500 behind Golden St., the -140 “chalk.” Boston has 20/1 odds.

Milwaukee is a -300 favorite for the series price against the Celtics, who are +250 on the comeback.

Led by MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo and Coach of the Year candidate Mike Budenholzer, it is easy to see why oddsmakers have Milwaukee heavily favored over Boston.

These rivals squared off three times during the regular season. Boston won the first meeting 117-113 as a 2.5-point home favorite. The 230 combined points jumped ‘over’ the 220.5-point total.

Kyrie Irving was the catalyst with 28 points and seven assists. Al Horford added 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 11 rebounds in the losing effort.

Budenholzer’s club avenged that loss by capturing a 120-107 victory as a 1.5-point road favorite on Dec. 21. The 227 combined points slipped ‘over’ the 224-point tally.

Milwaukee won a 98-97 decision but failed to cover the number as a six-point home favorite on Feb. 21. The 195 combined points dropped ‘under’ the 227.5-point total.

Nevertheless, the ‘over’ is on a 9-3 run in the last 12 head-to-head meetings between these teams.

Boston owns a 10-3 spread record in the last 13 games against the Bucks, including a 9-3 ATS mark in the past 12 contests played at Milwaukee.

Milwaukee guard Malcolm Brogdon, the team’s fourth-leading scorer (15.6 PPG), will not play in Games 1 and 2 due to a right plantar fascia tear suffered on March 15. There’s optimism that the UVA product will return by Game 3.

“We’ll reassess him after the first two,” Budenholzer told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We’re hopeful that it (his return) will be this series. He’s been kind of on track and meeting (benchmarks), but he’s still got some hurdles to cover. An important 5-6 days here. We’ll assess it when
we kind of get through this next little wave.”

Boston guard Marcus Smart (8.8 PPG, 4.0 APG, 1.2 SPG) isn’t expected to play in the next few games due to an oblique injury sustained three weeks ago. If this series stretches to six or seven games, Smart might get the green light to return. It appears the Celtics are in wait-and-see mode regarding his availability.

There are compelling matchups all over the floor in this series, including Khris Middleton vs. Jayson Tatum and Brook Lopez vs. Al Horford. Another intriguing showdown will be Eric Bledsoe against Kyrie Irving.

In last year’s playoff matchup won by Boston in seven games, Bledsoe did not perform well, averaging just 13.6 points, 3.7 assists and 2.1 turnovers. And that was with Irving out with an injury.

Bledsoe isn’t Antetokounmpo or Middleton, but he is vital to the Bucks’ success. Consider this: Bledsoe’s plus/minus rating in Milwaukee’s wins this season is +17.9. When the Bucks lose, Bledsoe’s rating plunges to -7.9.

If Bledsoe can make life difficult for Irving, even if it is just in stretches here and there, the Bucks can withstand Brogdon’s absence and win this series.

The first-round sample set is small, but we’ll nonetheless note that Boston is 2-0 both SU and ATS on the road in these playoffs. Milwaukee is 2-0 both SU and ATS at home, so something has to give in the series opener.

Boston hasn’t been a great ATS play on the road this year, going 20-21-2 versus the number. On the flip side, Milwaukee has produced a 25-16-2 ATS mark at home.

Remember, the home teams went unbeaten in their series during last year’s playoffs.

Thanks to the likes of Antetokounmpo and Middleton, Milwaukee is widely regaled for its offense (fourth in the league in adjusted offensive rating), but the Bucks play defense, too. During the regular season, Milwaukee was second in adjusted defensive rating behind only Utah. The Bucks gave up an average of just 98.0 PPG against Detroit in the first round.

With Smart out, Boston’s defense takes a step back. Double-teaming Antetokounmpo could be troublesome since Milwaukee is second in the NBA in made 3-pointers per game.

Buckle up for this series that might got the distance again. But with homecourt advantage this time around, look for Milwaukee to emerge victorious and advance to the East finals.

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