MILWAUKEE — By the time the Celtics open their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the top-seeded Bucks on Sunday, the Bruins will have completed one series and played two games in their next one since the Celtics last played a game.
After concluding their four-game opening-round sweep last Sunday, the Celtics have had to wait, wait, and then wait some more. Milwaukee’s sweep against the Pistons concluded one day after, so it also has had time to rest, or to gather cobwebs, depending on your view of such a long hiatus during the most intense time of the year.
“I think both teams will be ready to go,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said on Saturday. “I think the benefit of the rest is bigger than anything that comes from a rust standpoint with the layoff. I think both teams are probably antsy to play. I don’t want to speak for them, but I know we’re ready to roll.”
Forward Jaylen Brown, meanwhile, was a bit more unsure how the long layoff will affect the Celtics.
“We’ll see Sunday afternoon,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully it’s a good thing.”
The game is scheduled to tip off at noon Central time. While there are always bumps and bruises that could use healing this time of the year, the long wait was not enough to get guard Marcus Smart back on the court with his teammates.
Stevens on Saturday officially ruled Smart out for Games 1 and 2 because of a left oblique strain. Smart suffered the injury against the Magic on April 7 and was initially ruled out for 4-6 weeks. He has been ramping up the intensity of his rehab recently, shooting 3-pointers and running sprints, but has yet to take part in a full team workout. Stevens said that Smart was planning to travel with the team to Milwaukee.
The Bucks will be missing a significant piece, too. Starting guard Malcolm Brogdon, who accomplished the rare feat of shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line, and 90 percent from the foul line during the regular season, remains sidelined as he recovers from a plantar fascia tear and has been ruled out for Games 1 and 2, as well.
But much like the Celtics, the Bucks have considerable depth.
“Their depth filled right in when Brogdon went out,” Stevens said. “If you look at their last 16 games without Brogdon, they’ve maintained their level and [Sterling] Brown and [Pat] Connaughton have scored 21 points a game combined at that spot. They just fill in, they maintain that depth, they’ve got good players, they’re well coached. Tough series.”
Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is perhaps the NBA’s most dangerous player in the open court. His combination of size, speed, and strength makes him almost impossible to stop when he gets a running start.
But sometimes Antetokounmpo lowers his head and plows forward, potentially putting the Celtics in position to get him in foul trouble by drawing charges. It could be more difficult without Smart there to take them, but there will be opportunities, and the Celtics will be cautious.
“The bottom line is if you go downhill with the force and speed that he does, there’s going to be moments where he charges,” Stevens said. “There’s also going to be moments where he draws blocking fouls and scores and-ones. He does that a lot more than he charges. You’d better not let him get that head of steam very often, because you might get a charge occasionally but he’s going to score a lot more and-ones. I just think ultimately you have to be able to move your feet. You have to be able to guard with pride. You have to be able to do all that. But nobody can do that by themselves against him.”
Game times set
The NBA announced starting times for two more games in this conference semifinal. Game 2 on Tuesday will tip off at 8 p.m., and Game 4 in Boston on May 6 will start at 7 p.m. . . . A winter storm warning was in effect in Milwaukee when the Celtics departed on Saturday afternoon. “We all have our days in April and May that we wonder if it’s still winter or not,” Stevens said.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.