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NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics

Bucks erase fourth-quarter deficit, stun Celtics

May 12, 2022, 1:59 AM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Portis turned a missed Giannis Antetokounmpo free throw into a go-ahead hoop, Jrue Holiday made two critical defensive plays in the final 8.1 seconds and the visiting Milwaukee Bucks rallied past the Boston Celtics 110-107 on Wednesday night for a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series.

Antetokounmpo finished with a game-high 40 points, including a 3-pointer during Milwaukee's late comeback, to put the Bucks one win away from their third trip to the Eastern Conference finals in the past four seasons.

Game 6 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Friday night at Milwaukee.

Portis' game-winning basket came after Antetokounmpo got Milwaukee within 107-106 by making the first of two free throws with 14.2 seconds left, then missed the second.

Two Celtics fought over the rebound in a crowd, and when the ball deflected to Portis under the hoop, he converted a layup that gave the Bucks the lead for good.

Marcus Smart attempted to counter immediately for the Celtics, but Holiday blocked his driving attempt with 8.1 seconds left and threw the ball off Smart and out of bounds, giving the Bucks possession with 6.6 seconds to go.

The Celtics were then forced to foul Pat Connaughton, and his two free throws with 5.9 seconds left completed the scoring.

Without a timeout available, the Celtics had to try to rush the ball up the court for a potential game-tying 3-pointer, but Holiday stripped Smart near midcourt and ran out the clock on Milwaukee's second win at Boston in the series.

Boston's Jaylen Brown scored 16 of his 26 points in the third quarter, when the Celtics appeared to take control of the game. The hosts were up by nine points after three periods and by as many as 14 early in the fourth.

The Bucks chipped away, eventually drawing even at 105-all with 42.4 seconds remaining after Antetokounmpo and Holiday buried 3-pointers.

Jayson Tatum capped a team-high, 34-point game by sinking two free throws with 31.1 seconds left to put Boston back up by two, setting up the wild finishing sequence.

Antetokounmpo completed a double-double with 11 rebounds, while Portis led all rebounders with 15 off the bench and contributed 14 points.

Holiday finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and a game-high eight assists, and Connaughton had 13 points for the Bucks, who outscored the Celtics 39-30 on 3-point attempts. Holiday had four of Milwaukee's 13 treys.

Smart (15 points) and Daniel Theis (11) backed Tatum and Brown for the Celtics.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Playoffs-Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat

Hall of Famer Bob Lanier dies at 73

May 11, 2022, 4:57 AM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, a star for the Detroit Pistons in the 1970s and the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1980s, died Tuesday at 73.

The NBA announced the news, stating that Lanier died after a brief illness.

An eight-time All-Star, Lanier was the All-Star Game's Most Valuable Player in 1974. He had a 14-season NBA career and was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.

He averaged 20.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 blocks in 959 career games for the Pistons (1970-71 to 1979-80) and the Bucks (1979-80 to 1983-84).

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement: "Bob Lanier was a Hall of Fame player and among the most talented centers in the history of the NBA, but his impact on the league went far beyond what he accomplished on the court. For more than 30 years, Bob served as our global ambassador and as a special assistant to David Stern and then me, traveling the world to teach the game's values and make a positive impact on young people everywhere. It was a labor of love for Bob, who was one of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever been around.

"His enormous influence on the NBA was also seen during his time as president of the National Basketball Players Association, where he played a key role in the negotiation of a game-changing collective bargaining agreement."

Lanier helped St. Bonaventure advance to the 1970 Final Four, and he was enshrined in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

He served as an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors in 1994-95, then led the Warriors to a 12-25 record as interim head coach the next season, following Don Nelson's resignation.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks

Celtics, Bucks looking for steady production from reserves

May 10, 2022, 10:26 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks and host Boston Celtics will be looking for consistency from their supporting cast when they battle in a tie-breaking Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series Wednesday night.

Al Horford exploded for a postseason career-high 30 points and Marcus Smart hit two clutch shots down the stretch as the Celtics evened the best-of-seven series 2-2 with a come-from-behind, 116-108 win at Milwaukee on Monday.

The teams have alternated wins and losses in the first four games, with each winning once on the opponents' home floor.

The Bucks opened the series with a 101-89 win at Boston in a game in which Bobby Portis (15) and Grayson Allen combined for 26 points. Meanwhile, the Celtics didn't get more than 12 points from anyone other than Jayson Tatum, who had 21.

But things changed in Game 2, when Grant Williams bombed in six 3-pointers off the Boston bench in a difference-making performance in a 109-86 triumph. This time, it was the Bucks' supporting cast that struggled, with Pat Connaughton accounting for 13 of their mere 20 bench points.

As usual, Giannis Antetokounmpo (42 points in Game 3) and Tatum (30 in Game 4) were driving forces in wins for their respective clubs in Milwaukee, but again, their teams were only as successful as their supporting casts.

Brook Lopez, Connaughton and Portis combined for 33 points and 25 rebounds in Milwaukee's 103-101 win in Game 3, before Horford stole the show for the Celtics in Game 4.

In an effort to find help for Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has given Portis and Allen each two starts in the series. Portis scored 15 and 13 points in his starts, while Allen went scoreless in Game 3 before a seven-point outing Monday.

If there's going to be another change for Game 5, the Gregg Popovich disciple promised nobody other than his team would know about it until they were required by league rules to be informed.

"I've come up with a new policy: I'm not going to comment on my starting lineup to the media ... ever," Budenholzer said Monday. "(The Celtics will) find out 30 (minutes before game time); you'll find out at 30.

"I just have no comment on my starting lineup for the rest of my coaching career. Bam."

While injured Khris Middleton remains out of the Milwaukee lineup, the Celtics would like to get center Robert Williams back for Game 5. He appears headed for a game-time decision after having his surgically repaired left knee act up on him leading into Game 4.

As it turned out, no Williams meant more minutes for Horford, who turned back the clock not only to play 42 minutes but also with a postseason career-best five 3-pointers in seven attempts.

Horford admitted his inspiration came from the two-point loss two days earlier.

"We felt that at the end of Game 3 that we were in a position to win the game and we didn't," he said. "I was just really locked in (for Game 4). I understood the moment and what we needed to do as a group. Just come out and we were gonna do whatever it took. It was one of those types of nights."

--Field Level Media

NBA: Playoffs-Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks

Hawks, Bucks set for preseason games in Abu Dhabi

May 10, 2022, 2:08 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

Two preseason games between the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks are scheduled to be played in Abu Dhabi in October, marking the first NBA competition in the United Arab Emirates and Arabian Gulf.

The games are slated to be played at Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, the NBA announced Tuesday.

Dubbed by the league as Abu Dhabi Games 2022, fans can register for a chance to purchase tickets at a later date.

Broadcasts of the games are planned via NBA League Pass and multiple international services that would bring the action to fans in more than 200 countries and territories around the world on television, digital media and social media, the league said.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Utah Jazz at Boston Celtics

Celtics C Robert Williams (knee) ruled out for Game 4

May 9, 2022, 10:30 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics center Robert Williams will miss Game 4 against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night due to left knee soreness.

Celtics coach Ime Udoka said Williams experienced "a flare-up" with the injury Monday but is expected to return later in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Boston trails the series 2-1 entering Monday night's game in Milwaukee. Game 5 is scheduled for Wednesday night in Boston.

Williams, 24, is averaging 8.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks through the first three games against the Bucks.

He suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee on March 27 and underwent minor surgery. He returned to action for Game 3 of Boston's first-round series sweep against the Brooklyn Nets.

Williams averaged 10.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 61 games (all starts) during the regular season, his fourth campaign with Boston since being drafted in the first round in 2018.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks

Bucks slight Game 4 home favorites vs. Celtics

May 9, 2022, 7:05 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo will look to lead Milwaukee to a 3-1 series advantage when the Bucks host the Boston Celtics on Monday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Bucks have held steady as 1.5-points favorites ahead of Game 4 at BetMGM, where they have been backed by 55 percent of the spread bets but only 44 percent of the handle. The 1.0-point line at DraftKings has seen similar action, with Milwaukee drawing 66 percent of the bets while Boston has been backed by 53 percent of the handle.

The two-time MVP led Milwaukee to a 103-101 win in Game 3 on Saturday, pouring in 42 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. It was the sixth time he has scored at least 40 points in a playoff game.

"I just try to do whatever is in front of me. Play to my strengths as much as possible, and I know what my strengths are," Antetokounmpo said. "As long as I play within my strengths, I'm going to be in a good place and I just try to take it a possession at a time."

Jrue Holiday contributed 25 points and seven rebounds, and Brook Lopez went for 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Although Khris Middleton is still out with an MCL sprain, George Hill has returned to the Bucks' rotation after dealing with an abdomen injury. Hill was quiet in his postseason debut in Game 3, as he was held scoreless in 11 minutes off the bench.

With Hill back in action, Milwaukee is hoping for more production from a bench that has averaged 22.0 points per game in this series.

Monday's game on the defending NBA champions' home floor is now essentially a must-win for the Celtics, who will host Game 5 on Wednesday night.

While no loss is easy to swallow, especially in the playoffs, Boston mounted a late-game surge that could give it some momentum heading into Game 4.

After trailing by 13 with 9:48 left to play in the fourth quarter, the Celtics stormed all the way back and eventually went ahead 100-99 after a pair of free throws from Jaylen Brown.

Following buckets from Antetokounmpo and Holiday that put the Bucks up by three, Boston's Marcus Smart sank the first of two free throws before intentionally missing the second. Robert Williams and Al Horford each missed putback layups.

"Didn't even have to come down to that last play honestly. We were sloppy in the third and execution-wise at times," Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. "Battled back well in the fourth, but can play a whole lot better."

The Celtics were outscored 34-17 in the third quarter.

Brown paced Boston with 27 points and 12 rebounds on 8-of-16 shooting. Al Horford supplied 22 points and 16 rebounds, and Derrick White posted 14 points off the bench.

Jayson Tatum struggled heavily on the afternoon and was held to just 10 points on a lackluster 4-of-19 shooting which included an 0-for-6 effort from 3-point range.

Smart is back with the Celtics after missing Game 2 with a thigh contusion, but Sam Hauser will be out on Monday with a right shoulder issue.

With Saturday's loss, Boston is still searching for its first win in Milwaukee this season after it dropped both regular-season contests on the Bucks' home floor.

The Over/Under at BetMGM opened at a low total of 209.5 points but has moved to 211.5 with the Over garnering 86 percent of the handle. The market is at 212.5 points at DraftKings, where the split action has seen the Under backed by 58 percent of the bets while the Over has drawn 58 percent of the handle.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics

Celtics G Marcus Smart (quad) expected back for Game 3

May 5, 2022, 6:52 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

Looking to take a lead in their Eastern Conference semifinals series, the Boston Celtics are prepared for the "strong likelihood" Marcus Smart will be available for Game 3 on Saturday.

The NBA's Defensive Player of the Year was not available for Tuesday's 109-86 Game 2 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at home because of a right quad contusion. Boston's victory tied the series at a game each.

"We'll know more tomorrow based on how it feels today," Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said Thursday. "But obviously looks better today than he did. Just moving around, walking around the last few days when he couldn't go. We'll know more tomorrow."

Smart, 28, averaged 12.1 points with 5.9 assists in 71 games this season. He also was a key reason Boston held opponents to 104.5 points per game in the regular season to lead the NBA.

"My guys know, anybody who knows me understands that if I'm gonna miss a game, especially a playoff game, something's really gotta be really wrong," Smart said.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics

Celtics PG Marcus Smart (thigh) ruled out vs. Bucks

May 3, 2022, 10:29 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart was ruled out of Tuesday night's game with the Milwaukee Bucks due to a right thigh contusion.

The Celtics ruled Smart out about 90 minutes prior to tipoff of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Smart, this season's NBA Defensive Player of the Year, was injured during Sunday's 101-89 home loss to the Bucks.

"It's a little bit of both, swelling and pain, restricted movement," Boston coach Ime Udoka said prior to Game 2. "Some limited movement that didn't get better over the days like we thought it would."

Udoka said he expects Smart will back for Game 3 due to the long break between games. The next game is Saturday in Milwaukee.

"With the three days off, we're assuming he'll be OK," Udoka said.

Smart took two blows to his quad area during Sunday's Game 1 loss. Smart finished with 10 points in 33 minutes, with six assists and two steals.

He averaged 12.1 points, 5.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 71 starts during the regular season.

Derrick White is starting in place of Smart on Tuesday night.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics

Celtics favored to even series at home vs. Bucks

May 3, 2022, 5:25 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics received rave reviews for keeping Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant in check during their Eastern Conference first-round series.

Boston was not as fortunate against Giannis Antetokounmpo, who posted his second career playoff triple-double, in Milwaukee's series-opening victory. The Celtics will look for a better performance against him Tuesday as they try to even their conference semifinal series at one victory apiece in Game 2 in Boston.

The Celtics are a 5.0-point favorite at BetRivers and DraftKings while the line was 4.5 on Tuesday at BetMGM, where the Bucks have been backed by 64 percent of the spread handle. Milwaukee was drawing 58 percent of the spread handle at BetRivers but only 25 percent at DraftKings, where large bets were supporting Boston.

Antetokounmpo collected 24 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in Milwaukee's 101-89 win on Sunday afternoon. The two-time NBA MVP provided the signature moment in the fourth quarter after tossing the ball high off the backboard and following it to the rim for an emphatic slam dunk.

"I can't do that. I wouldn't even think about trying," teammate Jrue Holiday said of the self alley-oop by the star player known as the Greek Freak. "He's got a great nickname."

"That's just pure talent, just pure instinct," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "He's a great player. He does things that are unique and special and timely. That's one of those plays where you're happy he's on our side."

So, what did it do the other side? After all, the Celtics touted the NBA's top defense in the regular season and effectively shut down Durant and Kyrie Irving en route to sweeping the Nets in the first round of the playoffs.

"This one should hurt a little bit," the Celtics' Al Horford said. "We have an opportunity now to learn from this game, see how we can be better as a group and come out and do that Tuesday."

Speaking of hurt, Boston's Marcus Smart sustained an injury to his right arm late in the first half on Sunday. The newly crowned NBA Defensive Player of the Year returned for the second half, but he is also nursing a troublesome right quad contusion. He will be listed as questionable for Tuesday's game, Celtics coach Ime Udoka said.

"I think the quad bothered him more than the shoulder," Udoka said. "But you know he's gonna play through a lot and it could affect him. ... He's getting iced down now, so he'll be OK."

Now, will Boston stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown be OK after being held in check by Milwaukee's bigger bodies and active perimeter defense?

Tatum (4 of 13) and Brown (6 of 18) combined to make just 10 of 31 shots from the floor in the series opener. The Celtics, as a team, sank 28 of 84 attempts from the floor (33.3 percent) and converted just 10 of 31 attempts in the paint (32.3 percent).

"Give credit to Milwaukee," Brown said. "They did a good job and had a good plan, but we missed a lot of open shots. They hit us in the mouth so we gotta be ready for the next one."

Boston also will need to keep an eye on Holiday, who bounced back from a 10-point performance in Milwaukee's series-clinching victory over the Chicago Bulls. Holiday recorded 25 points, nine rebounds and three steals on Sunday.

BetRivers and DraftKings were also offering the Over/Under at 215.5 points. The Over was drawing 72 percent of the handle at the former and 66 percent at the later.

The line had moved from 215.5 to 214.5 at BetMGM, where the Under was being backed by 53 percent of the bets while the Over had drawn 70 percent of the handle.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics

Celtics G Marcus Smart (quad) questionable for Game 2

May 2, 2022, 7:05 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart will be listed as questionable for Tuesday night's Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks with a quad contusion.

Celtics coach Ime Udoka said Monday that Smart is sore.

"He's a tough guy that's going to try to play through things. We'll get him some treatment today and see how he feels tomorrow, but he'll be listed as questionable," Udoka said.

Smart, the season's NBA Defensive Player of the Year, took two blows to his quad area during Sunday's Game 1 loss. Smart finished with 10 points in 33 minutes, with six assists and two steals.

He averaged 12.1 points, 5.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 71 starts during the regular season.

The Bucks won Game 1 101-89 in Boston to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Playoffs-Chicago Bulls at Milwaukee Bucks

Report: Bucks' Khris Middleton to sit out series vs. Celtics

April 28, 2022, 2:26 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton has been diagnosed with a Grade 2 sprain of his left MCL and is expected to sit out the entire Eastern Conference second-round series against the Boston Celtics, The Athletic reported on Thursday.

Per the report, the recovery time for a Grade 2 sprain also puts Middleton's availability for a potential conference finals appearance in jeopardy.

Third-seeded Milwaukee begins its second-round series at second-seeded Boston on Sunday afternoon.

Middleton, 30, sustained the injury during the fourth quarter of Game 2 in the Bucks' first-round series against the Chicago Bulls on April 20. Milwaukee dispatched sixth-seeded Chicago in five games.

A three-time All-Star, Middleton averaged 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 66 games this season.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Chicago Bulls

Bucks double-digit favorites to bounce depleted Bulls

April 27, 2022, 7:20 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks look to punch their ticket to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs on Wednesday when they play host to the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 of their series.

After dropping Game 2 of their first-round set, the Bucks bounced back with a vengeance by winning consecutive contests on the road to take a 3-1 series lead. The last two wins came in dominating fashion for Milwaukee, which recorded a 27-point average margin of victory.

Milwaukee is favored to dominated again on Wednesday. The Bucks opened as 10.5-point favorites at BetMGM but the line shifted to 12.5 with Milwaukee backed by 71 percent of the spread handle. The line was 12.0 at DraftKings, where the Bucks were drawing 76 percent of the spread handle.

If the Bucks can win either of the next two games, their second-round series with the Celtics is scheduled to begin Sunday at 1 ET in Boston. The Celtics earned extra time to rest and prepare by sweeping the Brooklyn Nets.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks in their 119-95 win over Chicago in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon with 32 points and 17 rebounds. Reserve Grayson Allen erupted for 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Jrue Holiday added 26.

With Khris Middleton sidelined due to a sprained MCL, Allen has stepped up over the last two games by averaging 24.5 points and 4.0 rebounds off the bench.

Allen has been particularly sharp from 3-point range, sinking 11 of his last 14 shots (78.6 percent).

"Obviously much needed. The time was right, and he's been really good," Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I think he's just embracing the moment, embracing the opportunity. I think the guys are doing a good job screening for him, things like that."

While things have been clicking on the offensive end for the Bucks, their defense also has been stout. Milwaukee has held Chicago under 100 points in three of four games in the series.

In addition to Middleton, George Hill will miss Wednesday's contest with an abdomen injury. Luca Vildoza also is listed as day-to-day.

Now facing elimination, the Bulls will be looking to force Game 6 following their lackluster shooting performance on Sunday.

Chicago shot just 38.9 percent from the field (35 of 90) and 25.0 percent from 3-point range (9 of 36). The Bulls have not been able to find their stroke from distance all series, as they have shot under 27 percent from deep in three of four games.

"You know they (the Bucks) shot the ball well. That was the difference in the game in my opinion," Chicago coach Billy Donovan said. "If you look at their shooting from the 3-point line compared to ours, that was the difference."

The Bulls' challenge became even greater with All-Star Zach LaVine (health and safety protocol) and fellow guard Alex Caruso (concussion protocol) ruled out for Game 5.

LaVine led the Bulls in Sunday's loss with 24 points on 8-of-18 shooting. He also had 13 assists and five rebounds.

DeMar DeRozan contributed 23 points and Patrick Williams added 20 to go along with 10 rebounds. Nikola Vucevic notched 11 points and 10 rebounds to record his third double-double of the series.

Lonzo Ball (knee) and Matt Thomas (leg) are still out for the Bulls.

Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White likely will be directing the offense. White has averaged 6.3 points during the series, while Dosunmu has averaged just 3.0.

The Over/Under at BetMGM moved from 218.5 to 216.5 with the Under being supported by 68 percent of the bets and 56 percent of the handle. DraftKings' market settled in between at 217.5 with the Under drawing 75 percent of the handle.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Sacramento Kings

Bucks G Jrue Holiday voted NBA Teammate of Year

April 26, 2022, 7:18 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday won the NBA's 2021-22 Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award for the second time on Tuesday.

More than 300 current players cast votes for a group of 12 finalists selected by a panel of league executives.

Holiday received 39 first-place votes and 964 total points to finish ahead of Dallas Mavericks center Boban Marjanovic (48 first-place votes, 936 points) and Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (34 and 898).

Holiday, 31, also won the award in 2019-20 while playing for the New Orleans Pelicans. He is the first multiple winner of the award, presented since 2012-13.

He averaged 18.3 points, 6.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds in 67 games (64 starts) for the defending champion Bucks in 2021-22.

The award is named for Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes, teammates with the Rochester/Cincinnati Royals from 1955-58. Stokes was injured on the last day of the 1957-58 season, went into a coma days later and was ultimately paralyzed. Twyman became his legal guardian and advocate and supported Stokes until his death in 1970. Both men are enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Playoffs-Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics

Nets slight favorites to force Game 5 vs. Celtics

April 25, 2022, 8:00 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

Before encountering this version of the Boston Celtics' defense, a healthy Kevin Durant never averaged less than 24.5 points in any postseason series.

The ability to effectively defend Durant and limit the superstar's impact are among the reasons the Celtics hold a 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series. Boston can complete the sweep of the best-of-seven set on Monday night when they visit the Brooklyn Nets.

The Nets opened as 2.5-point favorites to win Game 4 at BetMGM but the line had moved to 1.5 by Monday. The spread-line action had been nearly split with Brooklyn backed by 52 percent of the bets and 51 percent of the handle.

The line was a mere 1.0 point at DraftKings, where the Nets were being backed by 55 and 54 percent, respectively.

The Celtics, who possessed the NBA's top-ranked defense during the regular season, won each game in different ways. If they cannot close out the series Monday, Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Boston received a buzzer-beating shot from Jayson Tatum in the series opener and overcame a 17-point deficit in Game 2. In Game 3 on Saturday, the Celtics seized the lead for good late in the first quarter and moved to the verge of the sweep with a 109-103 victory.

While each of those games were won differently, a theme is Boston's ability to contain Durant. He is averaging 22.0 points on 36.5 percent shooting against Boston.

"Clearly they're loading up on him, sending bodies to him, being physical with him," Nets coach Steve Nash said.

On Saturday, Durant's impact was so minimal that he scored 16 points and took 11 shots -- his fewest attempts in a playoff game since taking 10 in Game 2 of the 2017 Western Conference finals against San Antonio. That followed up an 0-for-10 effort in the second half in Game 2.

Following Saturday's game, Durant conceded Boston's defense was causing him to overthink things.

"I was just thinking too much to be honest, this whole series," Durant said. "Like how I approach the game. We got another game to play, another opportunity, and I'm looking forward to that."

While Durant's struggles are a key factor, so is the performance of Tatum. Tatum scored 39 points Saturday and is averaging 29.7 points in the series.

"I'm not trying to make it a one-on-one thing or a matchup thing. For me, trying to go out there and play as hard as I possibly can, give it everything I got on both ends, and do whatever I can to ensure that we get a win on any given night," Tatum said. "And everybody on our team is doing that, sacrificing, competing, being on the same page."

Tatum also is getting plenty of help as Jaylen Brown is averaging 22.7 on 50.9 percent from the field. Brown had 23 points and Marcus Smart added 14 on Saturday for the Celtics, who shot 50 percent from the floor.

The Nets are getting productive showings from Bruce Brown, who scored 26 points Saturday and is averaging 18.0 in the series. Brown's showing is occurring as Kyrie Irving was limited to 26 points in the past two games after getting 39 in the series opener.

Brooklyn will not be able to unveil Ben Simmons in Game 4, as it had originally hoped.

Simmons was the centerpiece of the James Harden trade to Philadelphia at the deadline but has yet to appear for the Nets due to a back injury. Game 4 was widely expected to mark his debut, but the Nets ruled him out Sunday afternoon after he reportedly experienced back soreness following a recent practice.

The game does have the highest Over/Under of the three NBA contests Monday night.

The 219.5-point market at BetMGM has seen the Under backed by 51 percent of the bets and 71 percent of the handle. Meanwhile, the 220.0-point market at DraftKings has drawn 58 and 59 percent, respectively, to the Over.

--Field Level Media

NBA: Utah Jazz at Boston Celtics

Report: Celtics' Robert Williams III to play limited minutes in Game 3

April 22, 2022, 9:02 PM

Photo Credit - USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics will get big man Robert Williams III back in a reduced capacity for Saturday's Game 3 against the Brooklyn Nets, ESPN reported Friday.

Williams (knee) intends to play limited minutes in Game 3 and raise his minutes for Monday's Game 4, per the report.

Williams first plans to make sure his left knee is still pain-free prior to game time Saturday.

If he returns for Game 3, the 24-year-old Williams would be less than four weeks removed from knee surgery. He had surgery on March 30 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

The initial timeline for Williams' return was 4-6 weeks.

The 6-foot-9 Williams is a defensive force for the Celtics. He averaged 10.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game in 61 regular-season games.

The second-seeded Celtics lead the seventh-seeded Nets 2-0 in the series as it shifts to Brooklyn for the next two games.

--Field Level Media