Celtics-Bucks: Three factors that will decide a pivotal Game 3


After a lengthy intermission, the chess match finally resumes Saturday in Milwaukee.

The Celtics and Bucks had a full three days off between Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series at TD Garden on Tuesday and Saturday's pivotal Game 3 at Fiserv Forum.

The first two games were polar opposites: Boston nearly set a dubious record by making just 10 2-point field goals in a 101-89 loss in Game 1, then turned around and hit a franchise playoff record 20 3-pointers in Game 2 to cruise to a 109-86 victory.

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So, which version of the Celtics will show up Saturday afternoon? Here are three factors that will likely decide which team takes a 2-1 series lead into Game 4.

Note: NBC Sports Boston's Game 3 coverage begins Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live.

1. Deep impact

It's a make or miss league, folks. That phrase is cliché, but it absolutely applies to this series.

Milwaukee led the NBA in opponent 3-point attempts during the regular season and is content to let opponents chuck from the outside while taking away the paint.

The Bucks' strategy worked like a charm in Game 1 when Boston jacked up 50 3-pointers and made just 18 (36 percent). The Celtics were undeterred in Game 2, however, knocking down 20 of their 43 3-point attempts (46.5 percent).

Boston probably won't shoot as poorly as it did in Game 1 or as well as it did in Game 2. But Ime Udoka's club got much more quality looks in Game 2 thanks to improved ball movement and a more patient approach. 

The Celtics would do well to stick with that approach in Game 3, as they were actually a better 3-point shooting team on the road during the regular season (36.1 percent) than at TD Garden (35.2 percent). The key will be taking good shots and drawing Milwaukee's bigs -- Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez -- out of the paint rather than forcing shots at the rim.

2. Defending Giannis

The Celtics limited Antetokounmpo to just five points on 2-of-12 shooting in the first half of Game 2, relying on Grant Williams and Al Horford to lock down the NBA MVP finalist in single coverage.

But as Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer noted after that game, Antetokounmpo "always figures things out."

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To Budenholzer's point, Giannis scored 23 points in the second half of that contest to help Milwaukee make a brief comeback. He also has 19 assists through two games in this series, so if his shot isn't falling early, expect the Bucks superstar to become a facilitator instead of trying to force offense.

Boston did a great job defending the 3-point line in Game 2 -- Milwaukee was 3-of-18 from distance -- but the Bucks' supporting cast should shoot better at home. The C's need to contain both Giannis the scorer and Giannis the playmaker by preventing him from finding role players like Pat Connaughton and Grayson Allen for open 3-point looks.

3. Making a point

The Celtics usually go as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown go, and Brown's first-quarter explosion in Game 2 played a key role in the victory. Boston could benefit from a more balanced offensive attack, however -- specifically with more production from their point guards.

Derrick White was an offensive nonfactor in Game 2 with zero points on six shots, while Payton Pritchard was 2-of-6 from the floor. The Celtics should have starting point guard Marcus Smart back for Game 3, but Smart was just 3-of-11 in Game 1.

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Pritchard's shot should improve, but if Smart and White continue to struggle offensively -- White is shooting an abysmal 28.6 percent through six postseason games -- then the Bucks can pay less attention to them while loading up on Tatum and Brown.

White could be an X-factor in this one: If he can give the Celtics double digits off the bench, there's a very good chance Boston will come out on top given its defensive prowess.

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