Game Preview: Bucks at Celtics

By Marc D'Amico
Celtics.com
March 13, 2011

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (46-17) have made it through 63 games of the regular season without losing three consecutive games, but that streak will be put on the line at 6 p.m. tonight when they host the Milwaukee Bucks (26-38) in the TD Garden.

Boston has lost two straight after falling to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night by a score of 89-86. The C’s are still integrating new players into the rotation, but it has been the starters who have put the team in a hole in both of those losses.

Rajon Rondo was quick to point such a fact out after Friday’s loss to the Sixers, and he knows the team’s four All-Stars are who will carry this team both at the beginning and end of games.

“Starting the game, we dug a whole two games in a row,” Rondo said. “You give a team confidence, a young team, it is hard to turn it off.

“It is not on the bench. [With the] exception of one guy, we have been together for four or five years now, so we have to do a better job executing down the stretch.”

Just a week ago in Milwaukee, the starters provided a solid start and a great finish against the Bucks. Boston held a 27-26 lead after the first quarter and dominated the final minutes of the game, outscoring the Bucks 7-1 over the final 3:35, en route to an 89-83 victory.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett highlighted that Boston victory with 25 and 14 points, respectively, and KG also pulled down 11 boards. The Celtics shot 51.5 percent from the floor while limiting the Bucks to just 41.2 percent shooting.

That win was Boston’s second of the season over Milwaukee, and a win tonight would secure a season sweep over the Bucks. The first victory came way back on Nov. 3 in another tight game, with the C’s pulling out a 105-102 victory in the Garden.

Tonight’s contest will likely have a slightly different feel to it because each team will be playing with key pieces who weren’t available just a week ago. Andrew Bogut, who had been out of the lineup with a rib strain, and Glen Davis, who has been resting a sore left knee, will both likely be in the lineup tonight. Those two players will certainly change the complexion of this game and give each team a little more beef on their respective frontlines.

The Celtics, in particular, would love to welcome Davis back into the lineup. Missing his nearly 12 PPG and five RPG have impacted Boston not just from a production standpoint, but also from a rotational standpoint. Without him in the lineup, Jeff Green has had to shift to many minutes at power forward seeing as Troy Murphy is the only other healthy big man on the roster as a reserve.

With just 19 games remaining on the schedule, the Celtics need to get their health to 100 percent and then hammer down the rotation for the playoffs. Getting Davis back in the lineup will be the first step to doing so, and it could also help the C’s avoid that dubious third consecutive loss.

Ride Pierce to Victory

Boston’s captain is coming off of a rough scoring performance against the Sixers in which he logged only 11 points. Usually such a night would come from Pierce when he just can’t hit a shot, but that wasn’t the case in Philadelphia. He simply didn’t take enough shots in Saturday’s contest, attempting only seven field goals.

That cannot be the case tonight, and the Celtics understand that. The Captain has been unstoppable against Milwaukee this season and has averaged 25.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 4.0 APG against the Bucks in two contests this season. Most indicative of the Bucks’ inability to stop him is the fact that Pierce has taken 17 free throws against them this season, all of which he has made.

With Milwaukee having no true small forward, just a few wing players who are small forward-shooting guard tweeners, Pierce can get his shot off almost whenever he wants to. Boston knows that, and that’s why it will likely ride him all night long and hope that he can lead the team to a win.

Bogut’s Presence

There are no iffs, ands or butts about it – the mere presence of Bogut will give a completely different feel to this game. He’s a wide seven footer and he’s one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in the game. That’s an unavoidable presence around the basket.

Bogut is the league’s leading shot blocker with an average of 2.7 per game and he also ranks fifth in the league in rebounding with 11.4 per game. Though Boston only scored 38 points in the paint against Milwaukee a week ago, reaching that number again in this game will be difficult with the big man protecting his team’s basket.

In the only game of the season Bogut has played against Boston, the C’s did a great job of avoiding his long arms when they took shots, as he finished with only one block in the game. Not surprisingly, Boston won that game. Limiting his number of blocks again tonight would do a lot of good for the Celtics in this game as well.

Perform Across the Board

We’ve been saying for three weeks now that the Celtics’ bench is continuing to mold itself, and there’s no question that it has performed relatively poorly during that time frame. There have been bright spots here and there, but with players popping into and out of the lineup with injuries and roles changing on a daily basis, there hasn’t been any consistency.

That inconsistent play hit a low point against the Bucks a week ago, as Boston’s bench was outscored 31-16 by Milwaukee’s. The Celtics’ starters won the game by outscoring the Bucks’ starters by a count of 73-52, but duplicating that type of performance would be incredibly difficult for Boston’s core unit.

With that being said, the Celtics are going to need some production from the bench tonight. Green is coming off of an 18-point performance for the C’s Saturday night, which led the team, and it seems like he is becoming more and more comfortable with the team each and every night. If Davis rejoins the lineup as well, the performance of Boston’s bench will likely spike a bit. The hope is that the spike in production from the bench will coincide with great play from the starters and result in a big win for the Celtics in a rare Sunday night game in the Garden.