The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to become the first team to repeat as NBA Champions since the Golden State Warriors did it in 2018 and 2019. They recently dispatched of the sixth seeded Chicago Bulls in just five games. What made that truly impressive was how it came about. Bucks All-Star forward Khris Middleton sprained his MCL late in Game 2 and missed the rest of the series. A lot of people thought that the Bulls were then going to make it a series. Instead, the Bucks absolutely destroyed the Bulls the next three games, winning by almost 100 points combined.
But now they are stepping up in class, big time. The Bucks will face the Boston Celtics, who swept Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets in the first round. Boston boasts the NBA's best defense, and it showed against the Nets. Durant had his worst playoff series by a country mile. Making this series more difficult, Middleton is likely out for this series as well. Not to mention, the Bucks do not have home-court advantage.
Knowing that, a number of Bucks players will need to step up. But there is one that truly stands out, the Bucks X-Factor for the 2022 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. the Boston Celtics, and it is not Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Bucks X-Factor in Semifinal Series vs. Celtics
Brook Lopez to be difference in 2nd round series
I don't think many people doubt Antetokounmpo is going to get his. He is practically unstoppable. If you take him out of this equation, most people will turn to Jrue Holiday as the next most important player on the team. But I disagree with that sentiment.
Holiday is one of the best two-way players in the NBA, never mind just on the Bucks. The defensive battle between he and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart, is going to be amazing to watch. They should nullify each other to some degree. I believe both players' offensive games will not be nearly as efficient as they normally are.
Marcus Smart dropped 29 points (30 minutes) in the last meeting against Milwaukee without JT playing. Jrue Holiday also dropped 29 points (39 minutes). This matchup should be awesome! pic.twitter.com/SnA59DQNSJ
— Jerry Jr. (@JBreezyII) April 28, 2022
Much of Antetokounmpo's damage is done in the paint. The Bucks got a glimpse of what the Celtics can do defensively in the paint. It seemed like every time Durant or Irving got into the lane, they were met with a brick wall of defenders. However, the Nets don't have the requisite players to make them pay for double and triple teaming down low.
I believe Celtics' coach Ime Udoka will look to do the same thing in this series. That means when Giannis has the ball in the paint, there will be a number of open shooters around him. Those include Pat Connaughton, Grayson Allen and yes, Brook Lopez.
I went with Robert Williams and Brook Lopez and am interested to see which style between the two prevails.
If Williams looks like usual bouncy himself, advantage Celtics. If Lopez can bring him away from the basket, hit 3s at a steady rate and make him work, advantage Bucks. https://t.co/yAyRIbNyyB
— Trevor Hass (@TrevorHass) April 29, 2022
The Celtics feature a ton of long, athletic guards and wings that can get out on shooters. But Robert Williams is not going to chase Brook Lopez around the perimeter. That is especially true with Williams still not at 100 percent coming off his knee injury. Lopez will likely have the most clean looks from three in this series, from either team.
Lopez is probably the worst rebounder among seven-footers in recent NBA history, literally. But he is equally one of the most deadly shooters from deep. If he can make the Celtics pay for packing the paint defensively to slow Giannis, the Bucks will have a big advantage. If he doesn't, Boston will swarm Antetokounmpo, use a ton of fouls and make the Bucks superstar beat them at the free throw line. That would be advantage Boston.
Buckle up, because this is going to be possibly the best series in the playoffs.