The Milwaukee Bucks will kick off their next series in the NBA playoffs on Sunday. They will face Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and the Boston Celtics as they look to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez will lead the Bucks.
The Celtics are deep, defend incredibly well and just forced Kevin Durant into one of the worst postseason performances of his career. To make matters worse, Khris Middleton is expected to be sidelined for the duration of the series with an MCL sprain. Milwaukee overcame his absence in the final three games against the Chicago Bulls but will have it much harder against the Celtics.
The Bucks will need some big performances to survive the loss of Middleton, a hugely important offensive piece.
3 Bucks who must step up with Khris Middleton set to miss series vs. Celtics
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Everything the Bucks want to get done starts and ends with the Greek Freak. It's as simple as that. With one of the team's most important scorers, it's on their superstar to go even harder.
Antetokounmpo has proven to be a phenomenal performer in the NBA playoffs. His one-of-a-kind playstyle has shined on the brightest stage. The Celtics' defense will test him. He has proven to be up to past challenges and will have to rise to the occasion without his number-two option.
The Bucks have to get Giannis going early and often. Getting him downhill and making sure shooters are open on the perimeters must be prioritized. The shooters — Wes Matthews, Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton and Brook Lopez in particular — will have to do their part, too.
2. Brook Lopez
Lopez will have a very important role as the floor spacer for the Bucks. Against a Celtics team that plays big, he can't become a non-factor.
Robert Williams, Daniel Theis and Al Horford roam the paint for Boston. Tatum, Smart and Grant Williams are tough to get around, too. Getting more room for Antetokounmpo and Holiday to attack will be of the utmost importance. That's where Lopez comes in.
Although Lopez is not a fireballer from deep, he has been respectable enough to contest in the past. He shot 35.8 percent on 3-pointers across 13 regular-season games this season. Simply hitting the shots he gets could make the Celtics rethink their strategy on Antetokounmpo.
Because he is not as scary of a rim protector as he used to be, Lopez will have to make up for it on the offensive end. The aforementioned sharpshooters will be important, too, but Lopez's ability to space the floor as a center would be invaluable.
1. Jrue Holiday
Holiday has to be a two-way force for the Bucks. Disrupting offenses is like second nature to him but helping to carry one will become the more important role for him due to Middleton's absence.
Offensively, he will have to have a massive impact. Whether that's by scoring himself or getting his shooters/slashers good looks, he has to punish the Celtics' defense. Not only will Holiday need to increase his offensive output but he will have a lot of responsibility on defense. He will likely find himself on Tatum and Brown, though the latter may be hampered by a hamstring issue.
There is no dought that Holiday will be a pest for the Bucks on defense. There also needs to be no doubt that he will be a big-time contributor on offense.
It will take a village to take down the Celtics. The Giannis Antetokounmpo-Jrue Holiday-Brook Lopez triumvirate will have the most important jobs as the Bucks look to do just that in the NBA playoffs.