Game Preview: Bucks at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The second half of the Boston Celtics’ (16-17) season won't start off against championship-caliber opponents, but it will start off with a back-to-back.

Boston defeated the Cavaliers by a score of 86-83 Tuesday night in Cleveland and will be right back in action tonight. The Celtics are set to host Milwaukee Bucks (14-20) at 7:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden.

Both of these teams that will make their way onto the parquet floor tonight escaped with narrow victories on Tuesday. The Celtics led the Cavs by as many as 16 points in the first half but needed a late surge by Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to grab the road win. Milwaukee, meanwhile, took home a 119-118 home victory over Washington thanks to a last-second tip in by Ersan Ilyasova.

Ilyasova has been one of the bright spots for a Bucks team that is currently chasing the Celtics and Knicks for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. With so much talent in the East, it will be very difficult for the Bucks to make the playoffs, but they are competing at a high level.

There are seven players on Milwaukee’s roster that average at least 9.6 PPG this season, including Ilyasova’s average of 10.5. The fourth-year pro out of Turkey also leads the Bucks in rebounding with 8.6 boards a night. He is one of eight players on Milwaukee’s roster that averages at least 3.0 RPG.

One of those players won’t be available tonight. Andrew Bogut, the team’s starting center and best all around player, has been sidelined since Jan. 25 with a fractured ankle and may not return to the lineup this season.

Bogut’s absence is a huge loss for the Bucks but a huge gain for the Celtics. The 7-foot center always gives Boston problems and it will be a sigh of relief that the C’s won’t need to worry about defending him tonight.

That fact becomes even more evident when you take into consideration that Boston’s starting center, Jermaine O’Neal, is currently sidelined with a sore left wrist. He did not travel with the team to Cleveland and was expected to see team doctor Brian McKeon and a hand specialist on Wednesday. It is unlikely that he will play tonight.

Although the Celtics will probably be forced to play without their starting center for a second consecutive game, there is plenty of good news on the docket.

First of all, they snapped a five-game losing streak with their win over the Cavaliers last night. They’re also returning to the TD Garden tonight for the first time in two weeks after playing five straight games on the road.

The most important news of all, though, may be that Brandon Bass returned to the lineup last night in Cleveland. He scored 12 points and grabbed seven boards in his first game since Feb. 10.

Bass is Boston’s top reserve and has been the most consistent shooter on the roster this season. His ability to hit jumpers off of the bench is a vital piece of the team’s offense.

Thanks to the absence of O’Neal, Bass might be scoring his points as a starter for the foreseeable future. He did so last night, and he’ll likely get the call as a starter again tonight.

Bass and the Celtics are jumping right back into action after the All-Star break with a back-to-back. Playing games on consecutive days is never easy, but Boston has a lot of positives to draw from tonight to help it grab a second consecutive win and climb back to the .500 mark.

Take Care of the Ball

Had the Celtics delivered on this note last night, they probably would have flown out of Cleveland with a blowout victory. Instead, they squeaked out a win after coughing up 18 turnovers that led to 20 points for the Cavaliers.

Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo were especially sloppy with the ball, as they combined for 11 of the team’s 18 turnovers. Pierce accounted for six of them and Rondo totaled five. Each player fell into the habit of leaping into the air before knowing what he was doing with the ball. That almost always leads to turnovers, as last night proved.

Doc Rivers loved what he saw early on in last night’s game, as the Celtics totaled 10 assists compared to two turnovers in the first period. From that point on, though, the offense fell apart.

“The first quarter was beautiful,” he said after the game. “We put in what we worked on [Monday] and it looked great (in the first quarter), then it went downhill from there.”

If the Celtics can take care of the ball tonight, they might put together a beautiful game rather than just a beautiful quarter.

Contain Milwaukee’s Bench

The Bucks reserves came out of the gates firing in the second half of the season and totaled a whopping 60 points last night in Milwaukee. That’s one more point than the team’s starters were able to score.

Mike Dunleavy, Jr. was the team’s top performer with 28 points on 9-of-17 shooting, while Luc Mbah a Moute (13 points) and Tobias Harris (11 points) also recorded double-digit scoring efforts.

Boston’s bench is made up of several strong defenders, led by Mickael Pietrus. The Celtics reserves have the ability to shut down the opposition, and that talent will need to be displayed tonight.

Continue Making Moves

As Rivers said last night, it wasn’t a pretty win in Cleveland, but it was a win nonetheless. The Celtics needed to end their five-game losing streak and get the train back on the tracks for the second half of this season.

With that win in the bag, the Celtics are positioned to make a move up the Eastern Conference standings. Including tonight’s game, Boston will play five of its next six at home and none of the opponents during this stretch are considered title contenders at the moment. Yes, four of the six teams would currently make the playoffs, but none of them will strike an ounce of fear into the C’s.

Boston moved the needle in the right direction last night and needs to keep the momentum going tonight. With only 33 games remaining in the regular season, it’s time to make moves up the standings.