The Milwaukee Bucks face the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of their first round playoff series on Saturday. Who’s going to be a hero?
The Eastern Conference first round playoff series between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks has been decided largely by which team’s role players have played better in each game. Boston and Milwaukee have both been able to rely on their star players, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Al Horford, as well as one sidekick, Jaylen Brown and Khris Middleton, to give them production, but anything else has been completely up in the air from game to game. All that has led to a Game 7, which means someone gets to be the hero. But who will it be?
Below is a completely unscientific ranking of all 25 players that dressed for Game 6 of the series, plus John Henson, in order of the likelihood of their being the Game 7 hero. While it seems likely Henson is again out for the Bucks due to a back injury, there’s a small possibility he plays, which means he makes the list.
26. Brandon Jennings
Brandon Jennings is bad at basketball now, as shown by the fact that he started this season in China. When he returned he had a few nice games for the Bucks but overall was a negative when he played. He has yet to play this series and would most likely be inactive if Henson returns.
25. Abdel Nader
Nader isn’t great at basketball now either, but with all the Celtics injuries he has dressed in every game in the series. He played 12 minutes in Game 3 and was 2-of-6 from the field. The Bucks would likely ignore him as much as possible defensively, so maybe Nader could surprise and hit some big shots. But it’s hard to see him actually playing any meaningful minutes for Boston, especially with Marcus Smart back.
24. Guerschon Yabusele
Yabusele has fallen out of the Celtics rotation over the last few games and Brad Stevens tries to stay fairly consistent from game to game. When Yabusele was on the floor early in the series it tended not to be great for the Celtics, as the Bucks left him wide open on one end of the floor while attacking him at the rim on the other. With the Celtics struggling to find open shots, playing a player the Bucks can ignore and help off of doesn’t make much sense. Don’t expect to see him in meaningful minutes in Game 7.
23. Sterling Brown
No matter how much Bucks fans clamor for him, Joe Prunty does not seem to trust Brown in playoff minutes yet. That means a DNP is probably the most likely outcome for Brown, but with Tony Snell currently shooting 0-for for Boston right now, maybe Brown gets a crack at some wing minutes if Snell starts cold. Brown’s lack of fear, plus his defense, could make an impact if he does get the call in place of Snell.
22. Jason Terry
Joe Prunty loves Jason Terry to the point that it probably harmed the Bucks this season. There were plenty of games where Terry played the important close minutes over either Snell or Brown while Malcolm Brogdon was hurt, and it was always confusing considering the 40-year-old’s defense. Terry hasn’t played since Game 2 of this series and his defense is a negative, especially if the Bucks want to switch everything as they have lately. But don’t put it past Prunty to bring out the veteran in Game 7. If he is on the floor, the JET is going to shoot. In that case it would surprise no one to see him flying around the floor in celebration after an important 3-pointer or two late in the game.
21. Shane Larkin
Larkin is fine and plays his role well. But with Marcus Smart back, there just aren’t a ton of point guard minutes available for him any longer. Couple that with how Milwaukee has hunted the Middleton/Larkin mismatch all series long and it’s hard to see Larkin being on the floor enough to be a hero.
20. Tyler Zeller
If Henson plays, Zeller checks in right above Jennings at 26 because he won’t play. But if Henson doesn’t, the Bucks have tried to get 10 or so minutes out of Zeller at center. It normally doesn’t work but Prunty is stubborn and will probably try again in Game 7. Zeller’s impact is minimal at best as Boston has started to shred him in the pick-and-roll and his offensive game isn’t refined at all. The only way he’s a hero is foul trouble for other players and offensive rebounds. It just won’t happen.
19. John Henson
Ranking Henson was very hard. It’s most likely he won’t be playing in this contest so he can’t be too high. But if he does, Henson has been a positive impact player for the Bucks all season long. It doesn’t look pretty but Henson can protect the rim a bit, pass and finish awkwardly inside. He would give the Bucks their best shot of slowing Al Horford post-ups which is important. But Milwaukee is likely playing without him so he won’t crack the top half of the rankings.
18. Shabazz Muhammad
Joe Prunty loves Muhammad and has a tendency to go to him when Jabari Parker or Tony Snell struggle to make shots. Muhammad isn’t really good. He’s a black hole on offense who isn’t a great shooter and a big negative on defense, but black holes can get hot sometimes and 12 points off the bench can swing a Game 7 easily.
17. Greg Monroe
Monroe hasn’t been on the floor much recently due to his defense, but he’s also one of the great counters to the Bucks recent small ball push. Monroe punished Milwaukee with post-ups early in the series and it wouldn’t be crazy to see him do it again if Stevens is looking for an adjustment. Without Henson, the Bucks don’t really have a player big or experienced enough to consistently defend Monroe without fouling which could be important. And boy would it hurt Bucks fans to go down to a series of Greg Monroe “and-one” screams.
16. Aron Baynes
Think Monroe but replace post-ups with offensive rebounds. Baynes has pushed around the Bucks (especially Thon Maker) when he’s on the floor in the series. Antetokounmpo tends to seek him out at the rim, though, and Baynes has fallen out of favor as Boston has gone smaller which makes it a bit unlikely. But Baynes playing 18 minutes and yanking in four or five important offensive rebounds isn’t unfathomable. For a Boston team struggling to score lately, those extra possessions could be vitally important.
15. Matthew Dellavedova
Delly is the first of a few Bucks role players that are going to have a big impact on this game. Milwaukee’s stars have repeatedly come through in Games 1-6 only to be let down in losses by the other guys not making shots. Dellavedova has done exactly what he always does in this series in playing tough defense and setting physical screens. If he does that again and adds two or three 3-pointers, Milwaukee very well could walk out of Boston with a W.
Also there’s a 55 percent chance Dellavedova gets into a fight and gets some important Celtic ejected.
14. Semi Ojeleye
Okeleye has moved into the starting lineup in the last few games as Boston searches for a “Giannis stopper” and it hasn’t exactly worked. In Game 5, Antetokounmpo took less shots than normal but that was because he was finding wide open teammates who just missed shots. In Game 6, Antetokounmpo dominated. Considering Ojeleye is a horrendous offensive player right now who doesn’t actively try to do anything, Ojeleye’s opportunity as a hero goes directly from slowing down Antetokounmpo. Good luck, rookie.
13. Thon Maker
Maker’s defense has helped the Bucks get back into the series after falling behind 2-0, but the Celtics are starting to find ways to punish him. Maker is so skinny that he struggles to rebound the ball and his hands might actually be made of stone. Considering Milwaukee can’t play 48 minutes with Antetokounmpo at center, Maker is going to be needed, which puts him into potential hero territory if he blocks some shots and makes some 3-pointers. But Boston also might foul him out and dominate on the offensive glass, which would be disastrous for Milwaukee.
12. Jabari Parker
Parker may seem low, but that’s more a reflection of his role than his talent. Parker is a bench scorer who needs the ball in his hands to be effective. If Milwaukee is going to win Game 7, it’s likely to be because of their stars. Parker isn’t a star. That means he’ll have to make his greatest impact in other ways, like defense, rebounding and making catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. That isn’t exactly Parker’s game. It’s possible he could explode and have a big scoring night to lead the Bucks to victory but that would be a massive surprise. The biggest problem for Parker’s shot at being a hero, though, is that, if he doesn’t work hard on defense after not getting a shot he wants, he might be glued to the bench late in the game.
11. Marcus Morris
All series long the Celtics have needed help at some point in the game to score. When Milwaukee is really locked in, Boston’s lack of star level creation without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving is clear. In those moments, Boston really needs players capable of hitting tough, contested shots. Morris lives for tough, contested shots. A big game from him might give the Celtics enough offense to leave with a W, but asking for a hero to emerge just due to making tough, contested shots is hard.
10. Malcolm Brogdon
Brogdon has seen his minutes fluctuate wildly in this series, strange considering he’s one of the Bucks’ five best players and he consistently has made big shots for Milwaukee in his short career. If Prunty trusts Brogdon and plays him even if he isn’t making shots early, The Prez could very well come up with a few big catch-and-shoot 3-pointers or drives to the rim to give Middleton and Antetokounmpo the help they need for Milwaukee to win the game. If Prunty plays him 19 minutes like he did in Games 2 and 5 in Boston, the Bucks are probably going home.
9. Tony Snell
The Bucks offense in this game should be run almost exclusively though the hands of their best two players, Middleton and Antetokounmpo, which should mean plenty of kick outs for open jumpers. If Snell, who’s currently 0-Boston in the series, can get hot, Milwaukee suddenly becomes very dangerous. And Snell, who’s also an above-average wing defender who has done a good job on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown when given the chance in the series, was a 40 percent shooter from 3-point territory this season. At some point the shots he ‘s been getting in Boston will go in and if he cans four or five in Game 7 it unlocks the Bucks best lineups and is probably the difference in the game.
8. Marcus Smart
Marcus Smart has magic chaos powers. It would surprise no one if he enters this game, dives around a lot, takes four charges, makes a few random tough shots and infuriates every Bucks fan in the world. Really the only reason he isn’t higher is he’s just returning from an injury that has clearly affected his already broken jumper. Whether that makes him more or less likely to hit an important jumper in this game remains to be seen. Chaos magic works in weird ways.
7. Eric Bledsoe
If Bledsoe tries hard on defense, makes smart decisions in transition and doesn’t barf up a million long-2s in this game, the Bucks probably win. The problem is that he hasn’t done any of those things consistently in the series, especially trying on defense.
6. Terry Rozier
Rozier shredded the Bucks for 23 points in each of the first two games of the series. That was the extra scoring punch the Celtics needed without Irving and Hayward and Boston came out on top in the contests. The problem is since that point, he’s shooting 9-of-33 from 3-point land in the series. If he shoots well from behind the arc, Boston probably wins. If he doesn’t the Bucks have a shot and Eric “Drew” Bledsoe gets the last laugh.
5. Jayson Tatum
The Celtics are going to need someone to make tough, contested shots in this game. Tatum has done that in spurts during the series. If he gets hot for a five-minute stretch at the right time of this game and pours in points, it could be enough for Boston to pull away and secure a win.
4. Jaylen Brown
Take Tatum’s explanation and just put Brown’s name in. Brown has arguably been the Celtics’ best player in the series, including two huge scoring nights in Game 2 and 4. If he’s able to channel that again, Milwaukee has no one to really defend his size if Snell is not making shots, considering that Antetokounmpo has to protect the rim in many Bucks lineups. That could force the Bucks into some tough lineup decisions and really change the game.
3. Khris Middleton
Middleton has been money for the Bucks all series long, punishing small Boston defenders on switches, knocking down open 3-pointers and riding the tough shot express to efficient scoring nights. Milwaukee needs him to have a big night if it wants to win. Considering his ability to create his own shot from anywhere on the floor, he could be a player that’s asked to take a big shot late in the game.
2. Al Horford
Horford has been asked to do a ton for the Celtics on both ends of the floor all series. He’s spent time defending Antetokounmpo, been the hub for the Celtics offense around the elbows and blocks, protected the rim and rebounded. He likely won’t be the player tasked with making the biggest shot late in a close game but a monster effort from Horford at both ends of the floor probably impacts the chances of a Celtics win more than that of any other player on the Boston roster.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis is a top 10 player in the league and has taken over most of the games in the series, including Game 6. No player on the floor has a better chance to carry their team to a win on Saturday night. And he doesn’t seem nervous at all. This should be fun.