The roller coaster ride that was the Damian Lillard sweepstakes came to a close on Wednesday, with the seven-time All-Star being shipped to the Milwaukee Bucks as part of a three-team deal between Milwaukee, Portland, and Phoenix.
Though a move to the Eastern Conference seemed inevitable for Lillard, the trade to Milwaukee was a surprise. Lillard had made it known that his preferred destination was Miami, and many believed that to be the most likely destination for the 33-year-old.
Regardless, there is no doubt things just got a lot more interesting in the Eastern Conference, but how does the deal affect the Celtics?
The Bucks are trying to win now, and pairing Lillard, a seven-time All-NBA selection, with two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo gives Milwaukee the foundation for a championship-contending team. Not to mention, Milwaukee still has last season’s Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Brook Lopez and three-time All-Star Khris Middleton.
The addition of Lillard figures to make Milwaukee an offensive juggernaut. Lillard averaged a career-high 32 points per game a season ago and is a career 37 percent three-point shooter. The pairing of Lillard and Antetokounmpo, who also averaged over 30 points per game a season ago, gives the Bucks one of the most dangerous duos in the NBA and the lethal secondary scoring option they were looking for.
However, in acquiring Lillard, Milwaukee is taking a step back defensively. The Bucks had one of the best defenses in the league a season ago, finishing fourth in defensive rating, and Jrue Holiday was a driving factor behind that.
Lillard is a significant downgrade from Holiday on the defensive end. Holiday has earned All-Defensive team honors in each of the last three seasons and has emerged as one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders.
The Holiday situation is interesting in itself. It’s expected that Portland will look to move Holiday as they focus on their youth movement and assembling draft capital. According to the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach, the Celtics are expected to explore a possible trade for Holiday - which is absolutely the right decision, especially considering the draft capital Boston possesses.
The most daunting task for the Celtics when it comes to playing Milwaukee will be slowing down their offense. It’s fair to expect a lot of scoring when these two meet. Even against a stout Milwaukee defense, the Celtics averaged 134.7 points per game of 53.5% shooting in their three games against the Bucks last season.
The Celtics will be able to keep pace with Milwaukee on the offensive end, but can their defense slow things down enough?
The Bucks now have two lethal scoring threats in Lillard and Antetokounmpo. While both can score at will, Antetokounmpo will cause more headaches for Boston defensively. Figuring out how to defend Antetokounmo will be a tall task for Boston. In the past, Grant Williams and Al Horford have faired well against the seven-footer, but with Williams gone, the Celtics will need someone to fill his void.
Boston will see Milwaukee four times this season, with their first matchup set for Thanksgiving Eve on November 22 at TD Garden.