Game Preview: Celtics at Bucks

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – Monta Ellis wasn’t present for the Boston Celtics’ (24-21) victory over the Golden State Warriors on March 14, but he will be in the house when the C’s square off with the Bucks (21-24) at 8 p.m. tonight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made a splash on the trade market when they acquired the high-scoring Ellis from Golden State on March 14. Ellis has gone on to play two games with Milwaukee and the team has won both of those contests in blowout fashion.

Although those two wins came against struggling opponents, the Warriors and Trail Blazers, it’s clear that this new Milwaukee offense is a high-powered machine. It has scored an average of 118.0 points over those two games thanks to incredible marks of 52.8 percent shooting and 34.0 APG.

The interesting fact is that Ellis’ scoring hasn’t been the reason for Milwaukee’s scoring surge. Instead, it has been his passing. He has scored just 16.0 PPG with the Bucks, which is far below his career average of 19.6 PPG, but he has dished out 6.5 APG in a Bucks uniform. It’s a small sample size, but that assist rate is the highest on the team, ahead of point guard Brandon Jennings.

Speaking of Jennings, Milwaukee has chosen an interesting route for its backcourt of the future. It has paired two low-percentage shooters together on the perimeter. Ellis and Jennings are shooting 43.5 percent and 40.9 percent, respectively, from the floor this season. However, judging by the early returns, the pair seems to be feeding off of each other and is wreaking havoc on opposing defenses with a combined 30.0 PPG and 13.0 APG.

Achieving those statistics tonight will be a difficult task for Milwaukee’s new tandem, because as we all know, Boston’s defense is one of the best around. The Celtics are coming off of a stout defensive performance against Atlanta on Monday night when they limited the Hawks to 76 points on 38.7 percent shooting. Atlanta’s starting point guard and shooting guard combined for just 17 points and six assists.

Much of tonight’s defensive effort for Boston will be led by the performances of Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, who will be matched up with Jennings and Ellis all night. The Celtics should have an overall advantage at those positions.

Rondo ate Jennings alive the last time these teams met, back on Feb. 29. Boston’s point guard recorded a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Jennings, on the other hand, was essentially a no-show. He finished with just six points on 2-for-11 shooting to go along with eight assists.

At the other guard slot, Allen will have a height advantage over the 6-foot-3 Ellis. Ellis is more of a scoring point guard than a shooting guard and he isn’t exactly known at a defensive stalwart. Allen should be able to get his shot off whenever he’d like.

Rondo, Allen and the Celtics are coming off of a big road win in Atlanta that puts them in position to move up the standings this week. If the Celtics win tonight, they would head into Philadelphia tomorrow night with an opportunity to take over first place in the Atlantic Division. In addition, the C’s are currently within striking distance of the No. 3 seed in the East, as they trail the Magic by just three games in the loss column.

Boston has already knocked off Ellis’ old team on this trip and now it wants to do the same to his new team. After two days of rest, the Celtics should deliver a great performance in another big game tonight.

Playoff Atmosphere?

Both of these teams are making a push toward the playoffs and understand that tonight’s game is incredibly important. The Celtics are trying to avoid a potential first-round matchup with the Bulls or Heat, and the Bucks are currently on the outside (barely) looking in on the playoff hunt. Judging by the way these teams are playing, they are both ready for the postseason.

The Celtics have been rolling since the All-Star break and have a solid 3-3 record on this brutal road trip. They’re sharing the ball and they’re playing great defense, and that usually leads to wins.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee has been doing nothing but winning over the past two weeks. They are riding a six-game winning streak into this game and will certainly have sky-high confidence when they take the floor.

The C’s and Bucks both want this win badly, and they’re both playing great ball. That should lead to a playoff-type atmosphere tonight in Milwaukee.

Challenging Frontcourt

To the average NBA fan, the duo of Ersan Ilyasova and Drew Gooden doesn’t sound too intimidating. To the NBA fan who has been following the league in depth this season, that pair is a nightmare to play against.

Ilyasova is having a breakout season with averages of 12.3 PPG and a team-leading 8.6 RPG. He has recorded 11 double-doubles on the season, scored at least 22 points four times this month, and has grabbed as many s 25 rebounds in a game this season.

Gooden, out of nowhere, has morphed into one of the best big men in the league over the past month or so. He is averaging 19.1 PPG, 8.0 RPG and 4.4 APG in the month of March. Gooden actually put up a triple-double of 15 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists against New Jersey on March 14.

Judging by all of those numbers, it’s obvious that Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass will have their hands full tonight. They’ll need to deliver solid defensive performances and also give great efforts on the boards.

Don’t Look Ahead

The Celtics won’t talk about it before tonight’s game, but there is no doubt that they’re aware of the fact that a win over the Bucks will set the table for possibly taking over the division lead tomorrow in Philadelphia.

Although that scenario would be great for Boston, its players cannot allow themselves to look ahead to tomorrow’s game. Tonight’s opponent is a good one and if the C’s overlook the Bucks, bad things will happen. Boston must take care of this game by asserting all of its attention and energy to the task at hand in Milwaukee.