Rapid Reaction: Celtics 87, Bucks 74
BOSTON -- Rapid reaction following the Boston Celtics' 87-74 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday night at TD Garden.
* HOW THE GAME WAS WON: Give the game ball(s) to the Celtics’ reserves. This was their night, as, frankly, it should have been, given the circumstances. The Celtics bench was huge in the second quarter, scoring 28 points to Milwaukee’s 9 as Boston opened up a double-digit lead it would maintain throughout the rest of the night.
* TURNING POINT: The second quarter, when the Celtics took a three-point lead and blew out to 18 at the half. The Celtics shot 60 percent in the period and outscored the Bucks 39-24. That represented the highest point total of any quarter all season for Boston. Rookie E’Twaun Moore had 8 points in the quarter and Ryan Hollins added 7, making all three of his field goals.
* THE STREAK LIVES! AND LONG LIVE THE NEW (ASSISTS) KING: Rajon Rondo had not played since April 17, but still had his 23-game streak with 10 or more assists on the line. He didn’t waste any time getting the streak to 24, collecting six assists in the first quarter and adding six more in the second. That gave him 12 in 18 first-half minutes. Rondo entered the game leading the NBA in assists at 11.6 per game, so he already had bettered that by halftime. And the man he led, Steve Nash, had already completed his season, making Rondo the de facto assists leader for the 2011-12 season. He had 15 for the game (in only 25 minutes) giving him a per-game average of 11.7. Nash finished at 10.7 per game. Rondo becomes the first Celtic in 52 years to lead the NBA in assists. Bob Cousy last accomplished the feat in 1959-60, averaging 9.5 a game.
* BOLD PLAY OF THE GAME: In a game where boldness never was a factor, the honor has to go to Rondo’s second-quarter assist on a dunk by Sean Williams with 2:32 left in the first half. That was assist No. 10 of the game for Rondo, extending his aforementioned streak to 24 games with at least 10 assists.
* PIETRUS RETURNS: Mickael Pietrus returned to the lineup for the first time since April 15. His appearance came earlier than expected, as he replaced Paul Pierce less than three minutes into the game. Pietrus said he was feeling fine before the game, having rested his swollen right knee for the previous four games. He then went out and knocked down his first three shots and had 7 points in 9 first-half minutes and ended up with 9 points in 19 minutes.
* OH NO! . . . NO WORRIES: The absolute last thing you want on the final game of the season is to have anyone injured in the game. But Paul Pierce had to leave the game with 9:43 left in the first quarter after suffering what the team said was a sprained left big toe. At the time, it was reported that Pierce likely would not return, a seemingly safe (and wise) decision given what lies ahead. But Pierce was back on the floor late in the second adding seven points to the five he had made before getting hurt. He seemed to be moving freely. He did not play in the second half, heading to the locker room before play even began.
* WILCOX SIGHTING: Chris Wilcox had high hopes of appearing in his first-ever playoff series when he signed with the team before the start of the season. But his season ended in March -- his last game was March 7 -- when it was revealed he needed heart surgery. Then the Celtics, needing bodies, waived Wilcox on March 23 to free up room to sign Ryan Hollins. Wilcox, who had the surgery late in March, was at the game Thursday night, sitting in the front row along the baseline. He said he was doing fine and looked none worse for the wear.
* UNSUNG HERO: Games like this one are made for guys like Ryan Hollins. The Celtics’ big man took advantage of his extended playing time in what really was 48 minutes of garbage time and ended up with 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots in 23 minutes. All but the minutes are Celtics highs or match his Celtics high. It remains to be seen how much time Hollins will get, if any, once the playoffs start. But for one night, he was The Man.
* JUST ENOUGH TO BREAK A SWEAT: Ray Allen and Greg Stiemsma were inactive, but Doc Rivers wanted to make sure everyone else got some time and conditioning in before the start of the playoffs. Consider it Mission Accomplished. No starter played more than 25 minutes. Pierce logged only 6 minutes, 41 seconds and Kevin Garnett played 11 minutes. They’ll now have two days of practices -- a first since the All-Star break -- before heading down to Atlanta. The referees also were on the ball, steering the game to a finish in less than two hours.
* WHAT IT MEANS: Doc Rivers has insisted all along that he cares not a whit about the homecourt advantage at the expense of resting key players. Well, now we’ll see. To get Banner No. 18, this Celtics will have to do what only one other Celtics’ title team has done: win it all without having the homecourt advantage in any series. The 1969 team did it. More recently, the 1995 Houston Rockets did it, taking out the top three seeds in the Western Conference and the No. 1 seed in the East, Orlando. The Celtics and Atlanta will play Game 1 of their series on Sunday at Philips Arena. That became apparent because while the Celtics were rolling the Bucks, the Hawks were doing the same to the Mavericks in Atlanta.
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