Who has the upper hand thus far in the series?
According to Action Network consensus odds, the Celtics (-147) are the favorites to win the series while the defending champion Bucks are +120.
By comparison, the Heat are -1523, the Suns are -1414, and the Warriors are -296, so the Celtics and Bucks have the closest series thus far.
However, the Bucks are the -135 money line favorite and a 2.5-point favorite for Saturday’s contest at 3:30 pm eastern time (2:30 pm central).
The series of star power has seen two very different games thus far:
- Game 1: Bucks won, 101-89, behind Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s triple-double (24 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists)
- Game 2: Celtics won, 109-86, behind Jaylen Brown‘s 30 points and Jayson Tatum‘s 29 points
Middleton has been ruled out for Games 3 and 4, but Smart — the Defensive Player of the Year — may return for Saturday’s Game 3.
So, who has the upper hand with the series now turning into a five-game series?
The Celtics Have The Upper Hand
The Bucks seem to be sticking with their defensive mindset of allowing the Celtics to rain 3-pointers.
Therefore, in some way, you could say that Boston controls its destiny in this series.
When thinking about it that way, the Celtics have the upper hand.
However, they could lose that upper hand if they shoot like they did in Game 1:
- Game 1: Celtics shot 18-for-50 on 3-pointers
- Game 2: Celtics shot 20-for-43 on 3-pointers
Boston made a big turnaround for the second game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In addition, Tatum has stepped up his defense this postseason:
Combined this season, the Celtics have held Durant and Giannis to a combined 52-of-135 shooting, just 38.5 percent. During the regular season, those two players – arguably the two best in the world – shot a collective 53.7 percent from the field.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) May 6, 2022
Tatum is at the point where he can be a defensive stopper on the league’s best defense.
The Celtics are getting all the outside shots that they would like.
In addition, Boston understandably seems to have the defensive edge in this series.
Therefore, it appears that the Celtics have the upper hand.
Can The Return of Middleton Change The Series?
With the Celtics having the upper hand thus far in the series, can the Bucks tilt the series in their favor?
The easiest way would be with the return of one of their “big three” — Khris Middleton.
Head coach Mike Budenholzer did not say anything specific regarding Middleton’s injury status.
However, he did say that Middleton could return closer to the end of the series:
Bucks HC Mike Budenholzer said Khris Middleton will miss Games 3 and 4, but after that?
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) May 5, 2022
Middleton, who has played just two games this postseason, averaged at least 20 points per game for the third straight season.
The veteran would make a splash in this series — if he is healthy enough.
He has faced the Celtics a lot in his lengthy postseason career.
He has scored at least 20 points in eight different playoff games against Boston.
If Middleton returns, he would take the load off of the shoulders of the Greek Freak and Jrue Holiday.
In Middleton’s absence, Antetokounmpo and Holiday have to be scoring a lot to get them the series win.