By now Zach Miller Jersey , the Boston Celtics have come to expect adversity.
They were barely five minutes into the season when Gordon Hayward’s gruesome ankle injury offered the first collective gasp in what would be an 82-game schedule replete with more head-shaking moments.
The most recent setback, season-ending knee surgery for Kyrie Irving, left teams in the East almost hoping for a chance to face the wounded Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
Boston enters as the No. 2 seed. But it is certainly vulnerable opposite a seventh-seeded Bucks team with which it split four games this season. Milwaukee is led by one of the league’s budding young talents in 23-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo.
If there is a silver lining for the Celtics it’s that they went 14-8 without Irving for the last 22 games.
”It’s forcing our group to grow up quicker than maybe some of our guys were supposed to,” forward Al Horford said. ”I think that this is a great opportunity that we have in front of us. We’ve really worked hard all year to put ourselves in this position.”
Antetokounmpo is entering his third postseason and already has turned into a marquee player. He averaged 33.5 points this season against the Celtics, more than any player. His next step is to lead the Bucks to a victory in a playoff series.
”Right now, (the) playoffs is not about stats. It’s all about winning,” Antetokounmpo said. ”It’s going to be a long road. We’re going to try to go to the end.”
Trying to slow him must be a team effort, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
”We’ll have to guard him with everybody on our team,” he said. ”It’s not on one person to guard Giannis. We have to throw a lot of different bodies at him.”
Some things to watch in Bucks vs. Celtics:
Injuries aside, Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon expects Boston to be tough.
”It’s another level, I think we all know that,” Brogdon said. ”I think we gotta not be distracted by all the outside noise, by what people expect us to do or what another team is lacking. I think we have to go in and we have to play our game.”
FILLING IRVING’S SHOES
With Irving out Womens Lamar Jackson Jersey , the Celtics will look to key their offense with third-year guard Terry Rozier. He’s played the best ball of his career this season, appearing in 80 games (16 starts) and averaging career highs in points (11.3), rebounds (4.7) and assists (2.9).
”I got to control the game, basically just filling what a point guard is supposed to do – filling Kyrie’s shoes as much as I can,” he said. ”Sometimes it might mean taking tough shots and making tough shots. … Do what I can to give this team and boost and put us in position to win.”
The Bucks are stocked with talent. But consistent defense has been a problem. At times, they’ve been blown out in the first quarter, forcing them to expend more effort to get back into the game. At worst, it turns into an outcome like the one that played out in the regular-season finale at Philadelphia, which turned into a lopsided lead for the streaking 76ers by halftime. Antetokounmpo said the team has lacked focus at times. They can’t make that mistake against the Celtics.
”I think understanding the tendencies, understanding your roles, understanding assignments, all of those things become paramount because each possession is important,” Bucks coach Joe Prunty said.
The Bucks basically have the same core back from the team that lost in the first round to Toronto last season. They add two key pieces to the mix in point guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Jabari Parker. Both players are proven scorers. Bledsoe played well down the stretch Semyon Varlamov Jersey , when his 3-point shooting picked up. Parker looks back at full strength after missing the first three-plus months rehabbing the second knee injury of his career.
AP Sports Writer Genaro Armas in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
More NBA basketball: Klay Thompson flashed back to a night he left the arena still in uniform, furious about his forgettable performance against Denver.
It used to be he struggled to shake off a bad night, or even a bad start to a game.
Now, he just keeps shooting. Whenever he feels like it, from wherever. No conscience. A hand or two in his face, no matter.
”I was not always like this. I used to be so hard on myself, especially early in my career,” Thompson said. ”… I learned, as I get older, if you play with passion, you play hard, and you leave the game saying I gave everything I have tonight in those 48 minutes, you can live with the result.”
The Warriors‘ season lives on largely thanks to Thompson’s shooting touch. Golden State is one win from a fourth straight NBA Finals Kemoko Turay Jersey , headed back to Houston for Monday night’s Game 7.
He came through with the defending champions’ season on the line in another do-or-die Game 6, just as he did two years ago at Oklahoma City. This time he scored 35 points with nine 3-pointers as the Warriors rallied with a huge second half to beat the Rockets 115-86 on Saturday night to force a deciding game in the Western Conference finals.
His defense shined, too. Oh, and the typically subdued Thompson let his emotions flow for all to see: He flexed his biceps Draymond Green style, pumped his arms like Kevin Durant and yelled out the way Stephen Curry often does at Oracle Arena.
Thompson has long been content to be the understated All-Star among the four in Golden State’s starting lineup.
”I just wanted to play with as much passion as I could tonight. Probably sounded more vocal than I usually am,” Thompson acknowledged. ”When your back’s against the wall, if your shot’s not falling, you can always control your passion and how hard you play. Usually when I do that, it trickles over to other aspects of my game.”
Curry’s Splash Brother did it in 2016 when he scored 41 points against Durant’s former Thunder team with the Warriors facing elimination. They went on to win Game 7 before falling to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in a seven-game NBA Finals.
Durant had no interest in recollecting, smiling and laughing with Curry as he said, ”next question.”
As for Curry?
”I think we both blocked that whole year out of our memory,” the two-time MVP quipped.
No arguing they both appreciate Thompson’s no-fear shooting approach and ability to almost single-handedly turn the tide of a game with a timely 3-pointer or two – or nine.
Once Golden State got going in transition, following clutch defensive stops Jean-Gabriel Pageau Jersey , Thompson found the looks he so prefers from long range.
”I feel like we’re the best team in the world and most fun team in the world to watch when we’re pushing that ball, getting defensive stops and making plays,” he said. ”We’ve got too much talent not just to hit singles like Coach always says. Trust the next man ahead of us. It will end up working in our favor most of the time.”
Thompson shot 13 for 23 and 9 of 14 from deep as the Warriors responded from an early 17-point deficit to dominate James Harden and Houston the final three quarters, outscoring the Rockets 93-47 after trailing 39-22 at the end of the first.
Thompson went a combined 20 of 32 from 3-point range in those two impressive Game 6 shows, Saturday and in 2016.
”I think Klay doesn’t worry too much about repercussions. He doesn’t worry about judgment and results. I think he just loves to play,” coach Steve Kerr said. ”He’s so comfortable in his own skin. I just think he wants to go out there and hoop, and he doesn’t worry about much else. So the pressure doesn’t seem to bother him much. He just competes and plays. As I said, the two-way ability of this guy hounding the MVP of the league, most likely, all game, and continuing to rain down 3-pointers, he’s amazing.”
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