The NBA Playoffs continue this week live on Sky Sports with Milwaukee Bucks vs Boston Celtics – Game 4, overnight on Monday night from 12am (midnight) live on Sky Sports Arena & Main Event, including live TNT pre-game build-up
Tuesday 10 May 2022 08:16, UK
There are plenty of reasons why the series between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks could get chippy and characters who love to get involved in the melodrama of it all.
So far though, this Eastern Conference series has continued to be played in a competitive spirit and with ferocity, grit and unpredictability key constituents in each of the games.
Take the crazy ending to Game 3 as an example where the Boston Celtics thought Marcus Smart was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer with his team three points behind and only 4.6 seconds left on the clock.
Instead the refs called a common foul meaning Smart had to score once from the foul line and then deliberately miss in the hope he or one of his team-mates could tip in it in. Pandemonium ensued around the rim before Al Horford's second tip to tie the game went through the basket, but it came after the final buzzer, allowing the Bucks to escape and take a 2-1 series lead.
The NBA maintained following the final two-minute report that the call for the foul committed on Smart was correct, although the Celtics continue to contend that.
These are all reasons to be frustrated heading into Game 4, the next one set to take place overnight tonight live on Sky Sports from 12.30am live on Sky Sports Arena & Main Event but expect it to be played with the same spirit of competitiveness the other three have, minus the thorniness which has enveloped the Warriors-Grizzlies series.
Between Memphis and Golden State, beefs are developing after Dillon Brooks' hard foul which broke Gary Payton II's arm, earning him a one-game suspension and causing Warriors coach Steve Kerr to say it was a "dirty" play and that he'd "broken the code".
The Grizzlies' star guard Ja Morant then got injured in Game 3 after contesting a loose ball with Jordan Poole and there is an increasing feeling of animosity between the two Western Conference teams.
Contrast that with the series between the Celtics and the Bucks. There have been several notable physical plays in the Eastern Conference semi-finals series, too, such as Boston's Robert Williams being elbowed in the face by Bobby Portis as both tangled under the basket while pursuing the ball. Williams went to the locker room but returned to the game.
Marcus Smart also missed Game 2 after getting hurt in Game 1 but there is a different feeling about it when the teams bang up and play physically.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was asked about a "code" heading into Monday night's clash and he acknowledged he didn't know what that meant while asking for more information – before then being told of Morant's injury.
"There's a competitiveness and a physicality that's respected, that's expected, and then if it crosses the line I think that some of the language that league uses is good," Budenholzer said. "If it's excessive, if it's dangerous, those are the types of things that are breaking the code.
"The players, these guys they're trying to win. It's competitive, the blood is boiling, but these guys all know this is a profession, this what they do for a living. Nobody wants to be on the other end of something that's excessive and dangerous or crossing the code or cracking the code or whatever it is."
The strength of the defense being played is also indicative of the spirit of competitiveness evident in this series.
While Smart is the NBA's recently crowned Kia Defensive Player of the Year, his Milwaukee counterpart Jrue Holiday has continued to match him stop for stop. According to StatMuse, Holiday has locked down his playoff foes' most potent scorers through eight games against the Bulls and Celtics.
Their field-goal percentages when guarded by Holiday: Zach LaVine (28.6 per cent), Jayson Tatum (30 per cent), DeMar DeRozan (38.1 per cent) and Brown (38.5 per cent). Overall, the players Holiday has guarded have shot 30.6 per cent.
That makes up for his own 37.1 per cent shooting. The strong point guard has been Milwaukee's second-best scorer, filling injured Khris Middleton's role, averaging 23 points on 23.3 field goal attempts.
The Celtics have made Holiday work at both ends, and that ratio of shots to points is fine with them. But it's a reminder that this is the playoffs, where efficiency takes a back seat to physicality.
"He's a physical guard that enjoys the contact," Udoka said. "So smaller guys struggle with him. He doesn't differentiate big wings, big men, and tries to go at everybody the same. That's his game. He wants to feel your body. Kind of hit guys. He's been that his whole career. We've got to be ready to embrace that."
As for their own attack, there was nothing wrong in Game 3 with Jaylen Brown scoring 27 points, Al Horford putting in 22 (four 3-pointers) and Derrick White adding 14 off the bench. The Celtics' main scorer Jayson Tatum, though, shot an ice-cold 4-of-19, notching just 10 points while missing all six of his 3-pointers and getting only three free-throws.
The lanky 24-year-old said he was "thinking too much" in Game 3, but to hear Udoka address it, Tatum was dribbling too deep into the Bucks' defense and, especially late, passing up shots he normally would take.
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A bounce-back game is more likely than not. Tatum was averaging 28.0 points through his first six playoff games this year, on the heels of 30.6 ppg and 25.7 ppg in the two previous postseasons.
"We understand how he's being guarded by certain personnel on their team," Udoka said. "They're being extremely physical on the perimeter with him.
"It's a team effort. We didn't set screens great for him Game 3 as opposed to Game 2. Game 1 wasn't great either. … But he also has to be patient to set his man up and use the screen. It's a full team thing."
Key notes: The two teams have alternated wins so far, with the Celtics' 109-86 Game 2 triumph sandwiched between two Bucks victories. Milwaukee squandered a 14-point lead Saturday but rallied in the final minute to win 103-101. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 42 points and made the go-ahead basket with 44.3 seconds left. Boston's Al Horford had a potential tying tip-in just after the final buzzer.
Keep an eye on: Free-throw opportunities. The Celtics had 34 free-throw attempts and the Bucks just 17 in Game 3. Boston rallied down the stretch by driving to the basket and drawing fouls. In the fourth quarter, the Celtics were 8 of 11 from the line while the Bucks didn't attempt a single free throw. "We've got to do a better job of keeping them off the free-throw line," Budenholzer said afterward. "Giannis has got to continue to be in attack mode. Our team's got to be in attack mode. We've got to flip the free-throw game. You're fortunate to win a game when a team shoots twice as many free throws as you do."
Injury watch: Bucks forward Khris Middleton remains unavailable and will miss a seventh straight playoff game with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Budenholzer hasn't ruled out the possibility Middleton could return later this series.
Pressure is on: Celtics forward Jayson Tatum. The three-time All-Star shot 4 of 19 overall, missed all six of his 3-point attempts and scored just 10 points in Game while being guarded primarily by Wesley Matthews and Jrue Holiday. Tatum said he's been dealing with a wrist issue for the last two months but added that it didn't affect his play. He was holding his left wrist after getting fouled by Antetokounmpo on a dunk that resulted in a three-point play.