Game Preview: Bucks at Celtics
BOSTON – It may only be December 21, but the Boston Celtics (13-12) and Milwaukee Bucks (13-11) will already meet for the final time this season at 7:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden.
Three of Boston’s first 17 games this season were played against the Bucks. The C’s fell in two of those contests, once in the Garden and once in Milwaukee, but did pull out a 96-92 road victory on November 10th.
The Celtics have struggled against the Bucks this season thanks in large part to their inefficient offense. They averaged just 90.7 points per game over the first three meetings and maxed out at 96 points during that November 10th win. Boston hit just 43.4 percent of its shots overall in the three meetings.
One of the causes for Boston’s offensive struggles against Milwaukee may be the fact that it was playing on tired legs. The C’s played two of the three meetings on the second night of a back-to-back and they shot just 42.9 percent from floor during those games.
Thankfully for Boston, tonight’s contest will not be on the second night of a back-to-back. The C's had the day off yesterday after dominating the Cavaliers Wednesday night at home. Boston’s performance against Cleveland may be an indication that its offense is primed to break out against Milwaukee tonight for the first time this season.
Boston put up 103 points during Wednesday’s win while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. Six of the nine Celtics who attempted a shot in that contest made at least half of their attempts. Paul Pierce, who scored a season-high 40 points on 13-of-16 shooting, was the offensive catalyst.
While the Celtics were humming in Boston, the Bucks were struggling in Memphis. Milwaukee shot just 35.3 percent from the floor during a 90-80 loss to the Grizzlies Wednesday night. Brandon Jennings, who scored 26 points on 9-of-26 shooting, and Marquis Daniels, who scored 12 points, were the only players on Milwaukee’s team who scored more than eight.
Limiting the Bucks to similar shooting numbers will be a goal for the Celtics tonight. Boston will also attempt to carry over its offensive momentum from Wednesday night to assist in winning its second consecutive game.
Make Jennings and Ellis High-Volume Shooters
Jennings and Monta Ellis are unquestionably the top scoring threats on Milwaukee’s team. They combine to score more than 38 percent of the team’s points on a nightly basis. Boston is fine with those players scoring a lot of points as long as they arrive via high-volume shooting.
Jennings and Ellis are both having terrible shooting seasons - both are shooting less than 40 percent from the field - and neither has been known as a marksman during their respective careers. If neither of them are hot tonight, the C’s would be more than happy to allow them to take away opportunities from their teammates while they fire up a ton of shots. Boston can live with these two scoring, but it cannot allow the less heralded Bucks to score, too.
Pierce vs. Daniels
Pierce and former teammate Marquis Daniels will square off tonight at the small forward position. Daniels’ years in Boston weren’t accompanied by many impressive statistics, but the same cannot be said for his season in Milwaukee. Daniels has resurrected his career by taking over the starting small forward spot and becoming a leader on this Bucks team.
The Celtics know all about Daniels’ defensive prowess, which Pierce will have to deal with tonight. What they don’t know so well is that Daniels can be a legitimate scorer. He has scored in double-figures in six of his last eight games, averaging 11.7 PPG on 51.4 percent shooting.
Pierce dominated the small forward position Wednesday night but he’ll clearly have a more formidable matchup against Daniels and the Bucks. Daniels is a great defender, and he is showing that he can be a reliable scorer, too.
Keep the Tight Rotations
Doc Rivers threw out a curveball Wednesday night when he started Jason Terry at shooting guard and Jason Collins at center. The move paid enormous dividends for the Celtics defensively, as they limited the Cavs to just 40.9 percent shooting in the game.
Watching Boston’s defense operate with Collins and Kevin Garnett on the floor at the same time was a pleasant sight. It has been rare this season to see the defense execute tight rotations and be in the correct spot at all times. On Wednesday night, it was rare to see them out of position.
That performance was a step in the right direction, but the C’s need to take another step forward tonight. They will not have long-term success if they continue to take one step forward and one step back.