Milwaukee Bucks vs Boston Celtics: Lineups, preview & prediction 4/15/18

The reconfigured Boston Celtics, missing their best player, open the playoffs Sunday against one of the league’s best in Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

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Boston (55-27) lost marquee offseason acquisition Gordon Hayward in the first quarter of the first game this season to a gruesome ankle injury, yet persevered for most of the season and hung around the top of the Eastern Conference as they battled the Toronto Raptors for the No. 1 seed and the Atlantic Division title.

But the second blow of losing All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who averaged 24.4 points and 5.1 assists, in early March to a knee injury that required season-ending surgery less than a month ago proved to be too much to overcome for the Celtics in their bid for the division title and top seed in the East, settling for the No. 2 spot.

But Hayward and Irving are not the only ones missing for the Celtics, who are also without top reserve guard Marcus Smart due to a thumb injury that sidelined him the final 15 games of the regular season. The backcourt scoring burden has now fallen to second-year guard Jaylen Brown, who averaged 14.5 points but scored 17.2 per contest in his final nine outings.

Milwaukee (44-38) are in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2003 and 2004 but have lost their last eight postseason series since advancing to the 2001 Eastern Conference finals. 

The Bucks swung the first major in-season blockbuster trade in the NBA in November when they acquired point guard Eric Bledsoe from the Phoenix Suns, but even a coaching change from Jason Kidd to Joe Prunty failed to elevate Milwaukee into a serious contender in the Central Division as they finished behind both Cleveland and Indiana.

The Bucks, though, have one of the league’s best player in All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who averaged career highs of 26.9 points and 10.0 rebounds to go with 4.8 assists per contest. The 23-year-old also posted a career-best 52.9 percent shooting percentage, including a 68.2 percent mark when finishing around the rim.

The teams split the four meetings this season, with each team winning on the other’s court once, and Milwaukee posting a 106-102 victory at home April 3 in the most recent meeting which was the only one of the four the Celtics played without Irving.

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