Though it’s now called the UW-Milwaukee Panther arena, the MECCA was the home for the Bucks (3-1) from 1977 through the 1987-88 season, during which they won seven straight division titles. For this game, the team had a replica of the famous Robert Indiana-designed court created, complete with its distinctive conjoined “M” in a lighter shade on the hardwood.
The current edition of the Bucks are looking to win their first division title since 2001, and are off to a fast start thanks to MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” continued his torrid start with 32 points, 16 rebounds and six assists in Milwaukee’s 102-93 victory over Charlotte on Monday night and is averaging a league-high 36.8 points while shooting 65.9 percent.
The most impressive part of Antetokounmpo’s early season surge is his dominance in the fourth quarter. He’s averaged 13.0 points while shooting 19 of 25 from the field in the final 12 minutes to go with 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 steals.
The Celtics (2-2) are all too familiar with Antetokounmpo’s fourth-quarter heroics after he burned them for 16 of his 37 points in the final period of Milwaukee’s 108-100 win at Boston on Oct. 18 in which the Bucks closed the game on an 18-3 tear.
Boston, though, has since regrouped to win its last two games, including a 110-89 rout of the New York Knicks at home Tuesday. Jaylen Brown scored 23 points, Jayson Tatum added 22 and Kyrie Irving chipped in 20 as the Celtics hit 14 of 29 from 3-point range while limiting the Knicks to 1-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc.
Three keys to the game
Get it to the Greek - The Bucks are letting Antetokounmpo create his own shot and with good reason. He is pretty much unstoppable inside of 10 feet, making 52 of 69 (75.3 percent) in that range. It's the primary reason the Bucks are averaging 54.0 points in the paint, tied with the Indiana Pacers for the highest in the league through games played Tuesday.
Can Irving get it going? - The Celtics star guard has yet to find his shooting range in the early going, hitting just 32.0 percent of his shots from 3-point range and 37.5 percent overall. He went 7 for 25 against the Bucks last week and since he's averaging 23.9 points lifetime versus Milwaukee, it almost feels like he's due for a big game.
Marauding Mirza - When Bucks coach Jason Kidd puts Mirza Teletovic in the game, he's trying to stretch opposing defenses so either Antetokounmpo can drive the lane one-on-one or he can kick it out to spot shooters. Teletovic hit five 3-pointers in Monday's win and is 9 for 19 overall from beyond the arc. He also has taken only one 2-point shot.
Matchup to watch
Celtics PG Marcus Smart vs. Bucks PG Matthew Dellavedova - While both guards usually come off the bench, there is no love lost between these two. They had to be separated in the second quarter last week after some chippy play in a sequence where they tried to fight through picks set by the other. Dellavedova had nine assists against the Hornets starting in place of the injured Malcolm Brogdon on Monday, and Smart is day-to-day with an ankle injury after colliding with Brown in the loss to the Bucks.
Boston Celtics projected starting lineup
PG - Kyrie Irving | SG - Jaylen Brown | C - Aron Baynes | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Al Horford
Milwaukee Bucks projected starting lineup
PG - Matthew Dellavedova | SG - Tony Snell | C - Thon Maker | SF - Khris Middleton | PF - Giannis Antetokounmpo
While playing Antetokounmpo and Irving are givens, Tatum could be an intriguing play here. The third overall pick is coming off his best game of the season after hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 22 points to go with four rebounds, four steals, two blocks and two assists. Tatum has averaged 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds and had eight and nine primarily matched up against Khris Middleton last week.
The oddsmakers shrewdly moved the over/under to 207 points after the over hit last week at 203.5. That moved the over to 5-1-1 in the last seven meetings between the teams. Some of the other numbers favor the Celtics as a 3 1/2-point underdog; they've covered in their last five road games and are 9-2 in their last 11 against the spread when coming off a straight-up win. The Bucks, though, are 9-4 against the spread in their last 13 games versus Atlantic Division foes.
The Celtics have improved defensively after putting Aron Baynes at center and moving Al Horford to power forward, limiting opponents to 40.1 percent shooting in the last two games. That said, both of them will have their hands full guarding Antetokounmpo given how he's firing on all cylinders right now. The lesser of two evils may be to allow him to set up on the low block because neither Horford nor Baynes have the lateral quickness to stop Antetokounmpo from driving the lane if he gets the ball at the top of the key.
Boston is still waiting for Irving to break out offensively, but Tatum's early emergence on the wing has also given the Celtics some balance offensively. The wild card in this game, which favors the Bucks, is the MECCA. The shooting background will be a factor since the backdrop is darker than the Bradley Center, and since Milwaukee gets more of its points in close, it will likely be less affected than Boston. Look for the Bucks to celebrate their throwback night in style with a 106-96 victory.
This game will be televised nationally on TNT and NBA TV Canada. Tip-off time is 8 pm EDT.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?