The Milwaukee Bucks announced their intention to contend in the Eastern Conference this season by opening the campaign with a win at the Boston Celtics in their season opener. The Bucks will try to cement their status as one of the top teams in the league by doing it again when the Celtics visit Milwaukee on Thursday.
The Bucks happen to have one of the most exciting young players in the league on their roster in small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who at 22 years old is becoming a legitimate MVP contender and started off the season averaging 36.8 points on 65.9 percent shooting in the first four games. Antetokounmpo had little trouble carving up Boston in the season opener, collecting 37 points on 13-of-22 shooting, 13 rebounds, three assists and three steals in a 108-100 win. The Celtics were one night removed from the shock of losing Gordon Hayward to a season-ending ankle injury while playing Milwaukee and have since turned the page with back-to-back wins. Boston breezed to a 110-89 victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday while getting strong performances from a pair of promising young players.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT THE CELTICS (2-2): Fellow No. 3 overall picks Jaylen Brown (2016) and Jayson Tatum (2017) are being leaned on heavily in the wake of Hayward’s injury and both are responding. The two combined for 45 points on 18-of-31 shooting on Tuesday and rank second (Brown 18.8) and third (Tatum, 14.8) on the team in scoring behind Kyrie Irving (20). “We’re in a situation right now where we’re going to expect a lot out of those guys and we need them to be great, we need them to be able to respond to adversity, and we need to be able to respond to pats on the back just the same,” Boston coach Brad Stevens told reporters of Brown and Tatum. “We have high expectations for them; they should have high expectations for themselves, and they’re getting a great opportunity.”
ABOUT THE BUCKS (3-1): Milwaukee is searching for some help for Antetokounmpo and is hoping a late 3-pointer from Khris Middleton in Monday’s 103-94 win over the Charlotte Hornets is what the veteran needed to break out of a shooting slump. Middleton was just 1-of-15 from beyond the arc on the season before knocking down that shot and is averaging 15.3 points on 39 percent shooting. Power forward Mirza Teletovic is helping to open up space on the inside for Antetokounmpo as well by knocking down 8-of-13 from 3-point range over the last two games.
1. Bucks PG Malcolm Brogdon (ankle) sat out Monday’s game and is day-to-day.
2. Celtics G Marcus Smart (ankles) missed the last two games and remains day-to-day.
3. Boston won in its only trip to Milwaukee last season, 112-108 in overtime on Jan. 28.
PREDICTION: Celtics 109, Bucks 108