NBA Playoffs: 3 X-Factor Bucks who could surprise us, 2 who could fall flat

Apr 2, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /
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Milwaukee Bucks: Pat Connaughton, Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart
May 13, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Pat Connaughton needs to be able to hold his own against the Boston Celtics if the Milwaukee Bucks meet them

If you had to poll Bucks fans on who they think is the biggest threat to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference, you’d probably hear the Boston Celtics as the most common answer, and deservedly so. The Celtics pushed Milwaukee for the top seed and will finish the season in second place in the East. They also knocked the Bucks out of the playoffs in a seven-game series that wasn’t all that close last season.

I don’t want to point fingers at one player or another, but it’s hard to overlook Pat Connaughton’s underwhelming play against Boston last year. He played heavy minutes in each of the seven games and didn’t play up to the level that Milwaukee needed him to. His Game 7 0-for-5 shooting performance from behind the arc was the icing on the cake.

If the Bucks match up against the Celtics again – and there’s a good chance they will – Milwaukee needs him to be better. But given what we’ve seen over the last few weeks, I’m not entirely sure that we can count on that happening.

Throughout his time in Milwaukee, Connaughton has been a reliable 3-point shooter, and in two out of the last three seasons, he’s been hovering between 37 and 40 percent from behind the arc. However, over the last 15 games, he’s shot just over 31 percent from deep. That’s not exactly what you want to see coming into the most important part of the year.

His defense is equally concerning. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown cooked the Bucks in the playoffs last year and ran them out of the gym on Christmas Day this season. A decent amount of that cooking came against Connaughton.

I understand that Connaughton has been a key player in the Bucks’ rotation for years now, and I don’t want to overlook his past contributions. It’s not time for Mike Budenholzer to turn away from him yet. But if he can’t find his groove in the first or second round then keeping him in the rotation against a Celtics team that has regularly exploited that matchup could spell doom for the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.