Celtics, Bucks meet again, a year after hard-fought series
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The team names are the same, but much has changed over the past 12 months since the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks met in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
And those difference will be on display Sunday when the rematch begins as the two teams open the Eastern Conference semifinals, this time on the Bucks' home court.
The top-seeded Bucks and fourth-seeded Celtics swept through the first round and should be rested for an encore performance of a classic seven-game series last season in which the home team won every game.
On that occasion, the Celtics held the home-court advantage. But not this season, when Milwaukee finished 11 games ahead of Boston in the regular season and earned a 2-1 advantage in the season series despite playing two of the games on the road.
Bucks guard Pat Connaughton insisted last year's series is ancient history as far as predicting the outcome of the rematch, but memories of the bitter defeats -- including Game 7 at Boston -- could give Milwaukee an edge this time around.
"This is a different team than last year, but at the same time, it never hurts to have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder from last year based off how that series went," he insisted to reporters this week. "Obviously the media, the fans, Boston fans, Milwaukee fans ... they'll have a good time playing that up and having a little added edge to it, but for us it's about making sure we stay together, we stick together as this team and make sure to continue to play the way we've been playing all year and not let things from last year creep in."
Both teams enter the series with injury issues in the backcourt.
The Bucks have ruled out Malcolm Brogdon for at least the first two games because of a heel injury sustained in March. He did not play in the club's 4-0 first-round romp over Detroit.
Meanwhile, the Celtics are hoping to get defensive ace Marcus Smart back at some point in the series, as they did last season when he sat out the first four games with a thumb injury.
This year, it's a torn oblique that's kept him out since the last week of the regular season. He did not play in the Celtics' sweep of Indiana in Round 1.
"Everyone knows what Marcus brings to the table, in terms of, defensively, passion, intangibles, loose balls, stuff like that," Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown noted to reporters this week. "We need guys like that, but we're going to have to have guys step up. I'm one of the guys that has to step up and I'm looking forward to it."
Unlike last season, the series will feature a duel between All-Stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving, a matchup in which the Milwaukee Most Valuable Player candidate held the upper hand in the regular season.
Antetokounmpo scored 33, 30 and 30 points in the three regular-season meetings, joining Kawhi Leonard as the only opponents to go over 30 points twice in games at Boston this season.
Irving had 28 points in the Celtics' 117-113 home win over the Bucks in November, but was harassed into 16-for-47 shooting and a total of just 37 points in the two most recent meetings.
Irving missed all of last year's playoffs with a knee injury.
The Celtics hold a 5-1 all-time edge in series wins against the Bucks.
Game 2 will be played at Milwaukee on Tuesday.
--Field Level Media
Updated April 27, 2019