According to CBS Sports’ Brad Botkin, the Boston Celtics wouldn’t have been Eastern Conference champions in 2022 had it not been for the absence of the Bucks’ 3x All-Star forward Khris Middleton.
“A potential Boston-Milwaukee conference finals would be a war, and though I’ve favored Boston in most of my analysis throughout the season, I am leaning Milwaukee now,” Botkin prefaced before saying, “They’ve just been so great over the last six weeks, and I can’t ignore that Milwaukee likely wins last season with a healthy Middleton.”
Botkin had the Celtics listed at No. 4 in his title contender rankings, while the Bucks took the top spot in his rankings due to the possibility Milwaukee hasn’t reached anything close to its final form due to the Middleton-Giannis Antetokounmpo-Jrue Holiday-Brook Lopez quartet playing just five games together during the 2022-23 season as of March 15.
How the Boston Celtics could swing a Bucks series
Botkin believes Boston would have a chance to beat the Bucks under one condition: their big man rotation returning to good health. Robert Williams III has played just 28 of the Celtics’ 69 games thus far.
“I’m looking at Boston’s bigs as a big swing factor,” Botkin wrote. “First order of business: get the aforementioned Williams back healthy, and keep him healthy for the postseason duration.”
To Botkin, Grant Williams represents the biggest wild card on Boston’s roster, and could help the Cs get past their biggest Eastern Conference roadblock.
“What about Grant Williams, the guy who more or less won Game 7 against the Bucks last season for Boston with seven 3-pointers?” Botkin asked. “He’s one of the biggest postseason wild cards. If he’s hot at the right time, same as Horford, Boston becomes really tough.”
How the Boston Celtics could stop Giannis Antetokounmpo
Despite his confidence in Milwaukee at full strength, Botkin does acknowledge that the Bucks do have an exploitable weakness that could undo them — that being their sometimes 3-point chuck-happy offense.
The CBS Sports analyst laid out how the Cs (or any team) could take advantage of the Bucks in those situations: essentially, forcing Antetokounmpo to ignore kicking out to his shooters and focusing on getting his own shot at the rim.
“If you make Giannis put his head down and barrel through multiple defenders in stagnant settings, you may have a shot over seven games to withstand his relentless force,” Botkin wrote.