It took the Boston Celtics seven games to dispatch Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs last spring, but the 2019 Bucks are a much different team. Top-seeded Milwaukee will have the homecourt advantage and enters as the favorite when it hosts the fourth-seeded Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday.
The Bucks cruised through the first round, crushing the Detroit Pistons by a total of 95 points in a four-game sweep, and are not looking back at last season's series loss. "At the end of the day, if I can be under control and be at my own pace and try to be smart with them by not taking charges," Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo told reporters. "If I get to my spot, then it's going to be tough (for Boston)." Boston was the higher seed in last spring's meeting but was without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who missed the 2018 playoffs with a knee injury and is not worried about going in as an underdog. "To be honest, I really don’t care about the seeding," Irving told reporters. "As long as we're in there, man, it's an even playing field. All the regular-season stats and all the hype around the regular season, everybody can have it. At this point, it's just about, you know, five versus five and who's better at the end of the day."
TV: 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Boston's inconsistent regular season didn't carry over into the first round, when it breezed past the Indiana Pacers in a four-game sweep. The Celtics have a healthy Gordon Hayward as well as Irving - both missed the postseason last year - and played a tight eight-man rotation in the first round that features point guard Terry Rozier, who was a thorn in the side of Milwaukee point guard Eric Bledsoe last spring, coming off the bench. "Just the more time that you spend together out there on the floor," forward Jayson Tatum told reporters of the team's rotations, "that's the best way to build chemistry and build a rhythm, knowing that's the group that's going to be out there the majority of the playoffs."
Antetokounmpo battled some nagging injuries in the first round and still managed to average 26.3 points and 12 rebounds in 28.3 minutes before getting six days off between series to rest. "We had six days," Antetokounmpo told reporters. "It's weird. I could have taken a mini-vacation. Go to the Bahamas and come back. ... I feel way better. Better rested. Fresh legs. Mentally fresh, too. I think the whole team is rested and ready to go." Milwaukee All-Star swingman Khris Middleton averaged 24.7 points on 59.8 percent shooting in the series against Boston last season and is itching to get started with the second round after posting an average of 19 points in 29.5 minutes against Detroit.
1. Celtics G Marcus Smart (oblique) is shooting and doing moderate workouts and the team is hopeful he can return at some point during the series.
2. Milwaukee PG Malcolm Brogdon (foot) was ruled out for at least the first two games.
3. Boston Hall of Famer John Havlicek, 79, passed away on Thursday and will be honored by the team with a patch on the jersey that includes Havlicek's No. 17.
PREDICTION: Bucks 120, Celtics 106