For the fourth consecutive year, the Milwaukee Bucks will participate in one of the NBA’s marquee Christmas day games, when they take on the Boston Celtics at Fiserv Forum. Playing on Christmas day has historically been more of a gift than a lump of coal for the Bucks. Currently, they hold a 4-3 record as a franchise when playing on December 25th. Two of those wins have come in the last three years. In 2018, the Bucks beat the New York Knicks 109 to 95 at Madison Square Garden. They also breezed to an easy 138 to 99 victory over the Golden State Warriors at Fiserv Forum in 2020.
While the Boston Celtics have displayed overall uninspiring play this season, they do currently hold a two – games to zero lead over the Bucks in this season’s series matchup. The scoring talent that exists in the Celtics starting lineup alone make them a formidable opponent anytime these teams play. What will it take for the Bucks to break through this season’s initial struggles against the C’s? Here are three keys to the Bucks upcoming Christmas day matchup.
3. Khris Middleton
Much of the Bucks success over the last few seasons has been attributed to the overall dominance of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-time MVP has more than earned this recognition. However, as he also showed the world during the playoffs last season, Khris Middleton is good.
The Bucks successes and shortcomings have largely been correlated with Khris Middleton’s play this season. The Bucks are 16-6 in games where Khris Middleton plays, and 4-7 in games where he does not. Not surprisingly, with it being such an important part of his game, Middleton’s shooting is also making a significant impact on the Bucks success. Middleton is averaging four more points per game in wins, 19.1 ppg on 44.1% shooting, when compared to losses, 15.2 ppg on 34.6% shooting. Middleton has played in one of two games this season against the Celtics, mustering four points in 23 minutes before exiting the game with his recent left knee injury. A big game from Khris would be the perfect gift for the Bucks this Christmas.
2. Contributions from the Bucks Bench
The Milwaukee Bucks have three players on their bench who have played in at least 20 games this season, and are averaging over seven points per game on at least 40% shooting: Pat Connaughton, George Hill, and Jordan Nwora. The offensive capabilities of these players has been observed by Bucks fans across multiple seasons.
However, the Bucks bench also includes encouraging new players this season, who have shown they can be difference makers. DeMarcus Cousins is adding needed size down low and flashes of his scoring ability from years past. Rodney Hood also appears to be growing more comfortable with the Bucks offense in the last few weeks. And the recent addition of hometown favorite, Wesley Matthews, adds even more three point scoring and defensive grit. This year’s “bench mob” is very capable of holding and extending leads that the starters have created for them. In the first two matchups against the Celtics this season, Milwaukee’s bench outscored the Celtics bench 22 to 17 and 36 to 34. These contributions will continue to be key for the Bucks success in this game, and moving forward this season.
1. Bucks Defense Needs to Prevent Another Outlier Performance
The Bucks defense allowed season highs in points to significant contributors of the Celtics offense in each matchup this season. In game one, Dennis Schroder lit up the Bucks for 38 points on 59.3% shooting, despite his season average being 16.8 ppg on 43.5% shooting. In game two, Jason Tatum scored 42 points on 64% shooting, while his season average is 25.9 ppg on 42.2% shooting. The Celtics won game one by nine points in overtime, and game two by 14 points. Simply put, if the Bucks defense can keep the Celtics primary scorers closer to their average production, it should give them a better chance of leaving Fiserv Forum with the win.
Catch the Milwaukee Bucks take on the Boston Celtics at 1:30pm CT, Dec. 25 on ABC.