BOSTON – TD Garden was not the friendliest road stop for the Milwaukee Bucks last season.
It was inside that arena that Milwaukee lost five of six games to the Boston Celtics, including all four of its postseason contests away from home. It was also the sight of the team’s most heartbreaking defeat of the year – a 112-96 loss in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, which marked the end of their short playoff run.
But that was last season, and this is this season. And this season, the Bucks hope for some better luck inside TD Garden, beginning Thursday night when they put their undefeated record to the test against a 5-2 Celtics team.
The first step for Milwaukee in overcoming its road woes against the Celtics is to place the emotions of last postseason in the rearview mirror.
“It’s a new season,” guard Eric Bledsoe said Thursday morning during Bucks shootaround when asked if he anticipates last postseason’s drama to carry over. “We’re focusing on something bigger than that. We’re playing at a high level right now, so we want to continue that tonight.”
It could be argued that Milwaukee is currently playing at the highest level of any team in the league, considering the fact that it’s the only squad that has yet to lose a game.
Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, averaging 25.0 points, 14.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game, has led Milwaukee to a 7-0 start, which has included wins over expected Eastern Conference contenders in the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors.
The young Bucks believe that their fast start is no fluke. Their talent is continuing to develop, their chemistry is as strong as ever, and they have bought into the well-organized system of new head coach Mike Budenholzer.
“I definitely feel like we’re more prepared as far as trying to win the game as a team,” said Bledsoe. “There’s more pace, energy, everybody’s touching the ball. Last year it was a little stagnant, but this year it’s moving a lot. We’re getting a lot of shots, a lot more points and stuff like that.”
Milwaukee’s offense has been on fire, leading the conference in scoring with an average of 120.0 PPG. However, it is about to meet the league’s best defense in Boston, which is allowing an NBA-low of 97.6 PPG.
“They’re really sound, and they do switch a lot,” Coach Budenholzer said of Boston’s defense. “I think individually, Al Horford is very special, very unique. He’s a guy that can kind of be the backbone of the defense. And I think some of the guys coming off the bench, Marcus Smart and (Aron) Baynes, can really change a game defensively. Everyone is kind of on the same page and that helps them be really good.”
Not only will the Bucks face the challenge of conquering Boston’s defense on the court, but they will also attempt to overcome its defense in the stands.
“It’s going to be raucous,” center John Henson said in anticipation of 18,624 onlookers inside TD Garden. “Boston’s got a good crowd, great sports fans. And they just won the World Series, so it’s going to be fun.”
The Bucks know that even if the drama from last postseason doesn’t carry over among the players, there will still certainly be high emotions among the fans.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of love in the air,” Bledsoe, who was in the midst of some of that postseason drama, said with a smile.
And the Bucks would love nothing more than to overcome their past troubles inside TD Garden by coming away with a win Thursday night.