Boston Celtics: Milwaukee Bucks
THE NITTY GRITTY
Jordan Crawford scored a team-high 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting (4-of-7 beyond the 3-point arc) as Boston put six players in double figures, including all five starters. Jeff Green scored 18 points, while Brandon Bass (16 points, 9 rebounds) and Jared Sullinger (12 points, 8 rebounds) aided Boston's offensive outburst. Courtney Lee, back after missing two games with a sore left knee, scored 11 points in 16 minutes off the bench. OJ Mayo scored a team-high 19 points for Milwaukee.
The Celtics were clinging to a four-point, fourth-quarter lead after Giannis Antetokounmpo finished an alley-oop with 11 ½ minutes to play. Crawford scored the game's next five points (following a 3-pointer with a short fadeaway). Lee accounted for Boston's next seven points before Crawford hit another 3-pointer to put the Celtics out front 84-71 with 8:21 to play. The Lee/Crawford-sparked outburst saw Boston score 15 points in little more than three minutes while building a 13-point lead. But Milwaukee wouldn't go quietly ...
FENDING 'EM OFF AT THE FINISH
The Bucks made it a one-possession game twice in the final five minutes, including with only 70 seconds to play. Milwaukee swarmed Boston ball-handlers at the other end and Sullinger got trapped on the baseline as the shot clock wound down. Unfazed, he dribbled toward the free-throw line and splashed a little, clock-beating step-back jumper for a 101-96 lead with 45 seconds to go.
YOU'LL SEE THESE ON SPORTSCENTER
The Celtics had two Top 10 nominees during the first half of Tuesday's game. First, Avery Bradley channeled Larry Bird when he corralled an offensive rebound drifting out of bounds and made an arcing shot from behind the backboard. Later, Gerald Wallace turned back the clock while storming the lane and delivering a vicious one-handed jam that left Boston's bench spilling all over itself in celebration.
Boston shot 49.4 percent overall (38-of-77) and 45.8 percent beyond the 3-point arc (11-of-24). ... Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks were healthy DNPs. ... Kelly Olynyk missed his sixth straight game due to a sprained right ankle. ... Caron Butler did not play for Milwaukee because of a sore left knee.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics improved to 8-12 and sit atop the Atlantic Division standings. Boston gets two days off before hosting the Denver Nuggets on Friday (a rare national TV game on ESPN). It's only the third two-day break since the start of the season for Boston. The Celtics are back on the road for a two-game swing through New York, visiting the Knicks on Sunday before a battle with the Paul Pierce-less Nets on Tuesday. A visit from old friend Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers looms next Wednesday.
Lee still was going through his on-court warmup as Stevens met with reporters, but had completed that routine after Monday's practice and deemed himself ready to suit up after missing two games with a sore left knee.
Lee's return would add an offensive weapon to a Boston bench that has struggled to provide a consistent punch, particularly in his absence. The sixth-year guard is averaging 7.6 points on 51 percent shooting over 16.9 minutes per game this season.
A few more pregame notes:
- BUCKING THE TREND: The Celtics are playing the Bucks for the third time in 33 days and second time in four nights while wrapping up a home-and-home series. "It’s pretty unique," Stevens said. "I guess it’s probably unheard of in my [college] career, but I’ve played teams within 10 days before. Again, it’s kind of like, you've got 82 games, you've got to play them all. And this is how the schedule works itself out. I think obviously there’s more familiarity when you’re getting ready to play a team again, and it’s fresh in your mind, which isn’t always a good thing if you got beat the way we did." Two of the Bucks' three wins this season have come against Boston. The teams wrap up their four-game season series on Feb. 10 in Milwaukee.
- BAD OFFENSE LEADS TO BAD DEFENSE: Stevens liked how his team played for much of the first meeting with the Bucks (building a 20+ point lead before the Bucks rallied late). But Stevens didn't like his team's effort on Saturday. "We let a bad-shooting night on our part affect us on both ends," Stevens said. "And not even that, we just didn’t guard with the same tenacity that we guarded them in Game 1. And if you don’t do that, you’ll get beat by them. Gary Neal, OJ Mayo, [Ersan] Ilyasova, [Caron] Butler when he’s healthy -- you go down the list, Brandon Knight. ... Those guys can make shots, especially if they are comfortable and we didn’t do our job in that regard and hopefully we do a better job of that."
- IN THE ZONE: Jared Sullinger had noted on Monday that the Bucks had stunted Boston's momentum in each of the first two meetings by mixing in a zone defense. Stevens said his players can't use that as an excuse for their offensive lulls. "It’s basically a 1-2-2 matchup... they just kinda mix it up," said Stevens. "They basically play it as a matchup zone with man principles. If you bring a big up, it becomes man; if you hit the flash, it becomes man, those type of things. I thought [the impact of the zone in Saturday's game] was a little bit overblown just because of the fact that, first of all, I thought it was effective in the games, I just thought we missed a lot of shots last game. And we’ve got to go in with the mindset that we have to confidently step up and knock those shots down when the defense changes. It’s not rocket science. But it did certainly impact us on the offensive end, especially in Game 1. I thought the other day it impacted us, but not nearly as much."
- THIRD TIME'S A CHARM?: The Celtics have (improbably) lost twice to the three-win Bucks this season (including their home-opener last month). What gives? "First of all, like everyone else in this league, Milwaukee has good players who can score," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "The first game, what they did was, they pounded us on the interior. Then we lost our way about midway through the third quarter after playing a great 2 ½ quarters. The other night, I thought we did a pretty darn good job attacking them. We missed a lot of opportunities, but our defense didn’t allow us to stay in that game. That’s what we talked about today. We just didn’t allow ourselves to stay in the game. And when you have a really good shooting night, you’re supposed to win. But really good teams have a change to win even when they don’t have a good shooting night."
- IN THE ZONE: Jared Sullinger said the Bucks have been good at junking it up against Boston, finding ways to disrupt its momentum by throwing a zone curveball at the Celtics. According to Synergy Sports data, the Bucks have the 18th ranked defense in the league based on points allowed per possession, but their zone defense ranks second in the NBA. "I think they just break our rhythm really well," said Sullinger. "Sad but true. We get a couple guys rolling, then they throw a 2-3 [zone] at us. They throw a couple junk defenses at us, and it kinda catches us off guard and, the plays that actually work for us, we can’t run them against a 2-3. So I think that’s one thing they do real well and they run. They run really well. They got gazelles out there. I can’t even pronounce his name, the Greek kid [Giannis Antetokounmpo], and John Henson, that kid is really athletic."
- WHAT ELSE?: Courtney Lee (sore left knee) expects to be available. He could give Boston's second unit a spark it's missed without him. ... Brandon Bass is averaging a career-best 1.3 blocks per game. "That’s what I do, man," he joked at Monday's practice. ... After playing 19 games over the first 31 days of the season, Boston will play only 12 games in November (nine of which are at home).
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Coming off maybe the team's most complete effort of the 2013-14 season in Friday's dismantling of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Boston Celtics regressed to the mean Saturday night as the Milwaukee Bucks snapped an 11-game losing streak while posting their second victory over Boston in November (and the Bucks have only three wins overall) with a 92-85 triumph at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The Celtics failed to defend the 3-point line, something they've done so well this season, and the Bucks knocked down 8 of 17 triples, sparked by a trio of 3-pointers by Brandon Knight (20 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists). After finding success early inside, Boston fell in love with perimeter jumpers and struggled to convert its own 3-point attempts (21.1 percent). Milwaukee erased an 11-point deficit by dominating the second quarter, then pushed its own lead as high as 17 early in the fourth.
If the Bucks had sleepwalked through the first quarter, Antetokounmpo woke them up. The 6-foot-9 small forward played the entire second quarter while contributing 2 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and that highlight block as Milwaukee outscored Boston 28-14 and took control of the game.
Antetokounmpo finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists over 28 minutes. He practically out-contributed Boston's entire bench, which saw six players combine for 13 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists. That included Gerald Wallace's latest night without a shot or point over 24½ minutes (he did have four assists and four rebounds).
Hey, these nights are going to happen with a team in transition. For every complete 48-minute effort, there's going to be at least one stinker to even things out.
Rapid reaction after the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Boston Celtics 92-85 on Saturday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center:
THE NITTY GRITTY
Brandon Knight flirted with a triple-double (20 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) while John Henson registered a double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) and the Bucks snapped an 11-game losing streak by rallying past the Celtics for the second time this season. Milwaukee shot 47.1 percent beyond the 3-point arc (8-of-17), which included Knight making all three of his attempts and O.J. Mayo (team-high 22 points) adding a couple as well. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo added 10 points off the Milwaukee bench and made some highlight-worthy plays (one first-half block/dunk in transition sequence was particularly noteworthy). Jared Sullinger led Boston by posting team highs with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Jordan Crawford and Jeff Green each added 18 points apiece for the Celtics.
The Celtics endured an abysmal second quarter (getting outscored 28-14), but that only negated a strong start. The game got away from Boston late in the third quarter. The Bucks were up three (61-58) with 3:29 to play in the frame, but Antetokounmpo followed a 3-pointer with a dunk and Milwaukee's lead stretched to nine. Luke Ridnour hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter, pushing the Bucks' lead to double figures, where it would stay for much of the rest of the game. A late flurry had Boston within seven a couple times in the final 90 seconds, but the Celtics could never get within two possessions.
Sullinger was tagged with his second flagrant-1 foul in the past seven days (he also earned one in Atlanta). It turned out to be a big sequence as Khris Middleton made both free throws before Mayo hit a jumper after Milwaukee retained possession, and the Bucks doubled their lead from four to eight early in the third quarter.
Courtney Lee (sore left knee) missed his second straight game. ... Lee, Rajon Rondo (ACL rehab) and Kelly Olynyk (sprained right ankle) did not travel to Milwaukee. ... Keith Bogans got some early second-quarter run, while MarShon Brooks played the final 4 ½ minutes. ... Gerald Wallace played 24:30 without a shot or a point. He did contribute four rebounds and four assists. ... The Celtics shot 41.7 percent, but only 21.1 percent beyond the arc; Milwaukee shot 46.2 percent, but thrived behind the 3-point line. ... Boston led by as much as 11 early on.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (7-12) missed a chance to pull even with the Toronto Raptors atop the Atlantic Division. Instead, they fell to maybe the worst team in the league for the second time this season. On the positive side, a brutal November is over. Boston had played 19 games in 31 days to start the 2013-14 season. December is far more agreeable (only 12 games over 31 days with ample rest/practice time). The Celtics have the next two days off before hosting Milwaukee (yes, another game with the Bucks) on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
- SEEKING REVENGE: The Celtics started their 2013-14 home slate on the wrong foot as the visiting Bucks rallied from a 22-point deficit over the final 19 minutes to top Boston in its home-opener earlier this month. As Jeff Green noted after Friday's win over the Cavaliers, "[The Bucks] beat us last time, so we owe them one. We gotta go out there and handle our business."
- END IN SIGHT! The Celtics will play their 19th game in 31 days on Saturday and, in doing so, will wave goodbye to one of the craziest months that many can remember for an NBA team. The fact that Boston has as many wins (7) as the Knicks and Nets combined is staggering enough. Consider that they did it while navigating a stretch that featured six back-to-backs (all closing on the road) and against the sort of competition they've played, and it's rather impressive what this young team has accomplished. December, with only 12 games, limited travel, and ample rest/practice time, will be welcomed with open arms (and weary legs) by these Celtics.
- FAST OUT OF THE GATES: The Celtics have endured some lackluster starts to games this season, often digging themselves double-digit holes. They flipped that script in Friday's dismantling of the Cavaliers, scoring 18 of the game's first 20 points en route to a lopsided win. Did Stevens harp on the start before Friday's game? "I may have said, 'Let's start off strong' once, but it wasn’t a huge emphasis. The emphasis was earn the right to score, earn the right to get stops, and the reason being is because there is a lot of little things that go into getting the chance to score the ball and we didn’t do some of those little things in the first quarter against Memphis and it hurt us."
- WHAT ELSE? Just about everything that could have gone right did go right for Boston on Saturday. Not sure a snowball effect is even possible, but the Celtics would be content to use the momentum from Friday's win against a struggling Milwaukee squad. ... The Bucks have lost 11 games in a row. ... Milwaukee is also coming off a back-to-back after losing in Charlotte on Friday night. ... Jared Sullinger is 6-of-8 beyond the 3-point arc the past two games. ... Boston's starters were a combined 32-of-61 shooting for 87 points on Friday night.
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BOSTON -- Rapid reaction after the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Boston Celtics 105-98 on Friday night at TD Garden:
THE NITTY GRITTY
Despite leading by as much as 22, the Celtics appeared to run out of gas and -- with Boston leaning heavy on their out-of-fuel starters late in the fourth quarter -- the Bucks surged ahead in the final minute. Zaza Pachulia scored a game-high 20 points off the bench for Milwaukee, which saw four reserves land in double figures. Brandon Bass scored a team-high 17 points for Boston, while Gerald Wallace added 14. Even in defeat, this night belonged to Vitor Faverani. The Brazilian rookie finished with 12 points, 18 rebounds, and 6 blocks
over 37 minutes.
The Celtics were up 22 with 19 minutes to play, but the Bucks surged back to tie the game at 93 with four minutes to go. Wallace, who took only one shot last game, made an open 3-pointer to push Boston back out front, but it was his loose-ball foul chasing an offensive rebound a little after that allowed Milwaukee to push ahead 99-98 on two free throws from Pachulia. John Henson blocked a Courtney Lee 3-pointer with 24 seconds to go and Pachulia made a layup at the other end to put the Bucks up 5.
C'S WATCH RUSSELL TRIBUTE
Coach Brad Stevens had his team stand and watch the JumboTron as the Celtics honored Bill Russell during the first timeout. Players joined in the long standing ovation that followed before huddling up. Stevens gushed about getting to hear Russell talk after his statue unveiling on Friday at City Hall Plaza.
The Celtics still treat Jared Sullinger like a rookie (he only played in 45 games last season) and he jokes the nanny of Boston's three other rookies (while waiting to reach 82 career games before being elevated to a true sophomore). Refs treated him like a rookie Friday, whistling him for four fouls over 10:23. Sullinger utilized some relentless work on the offensive glass to help him score 10 points (he was 6 of 7 at the free-throw line).
Lee gave Boston's bench its only real spark, scoring 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting with three rebounds and two steals (but even he was an impossible minus-20 in plus/minus)... Avery Bradley fouled out with 31.4 seconds remaining (the second time he's fouled out in the final minute in two games)... Stevens leaned hard on a nine-man rotation with Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Phil Pressey, and Kris Humphries all earning DNPs.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics should have got Brad Stevens his first NBA win in this one, but the rally put a lot of pressure on a taxed group of starters down the stretch. Boston falls to 0-2 on the young season. The Celtics practice Saturday before flying to Detroit for the first night of a road back-to-back that closes Monday in Memphis.
Bradley collided with Toronto's Kyle Lowry midway through the fourth quarter of Wednesday's loss and hit the ground hard. He stayed in the game, but the team held him out of practice on Thursday while testing him for a concussion. Both initial tests and a reevaluation on Friday were negative.
"He was reevaluated this morning, no concerns moving forward," said coach Brad Stevens.
Asked about the scare, Bradley offered simply, "I'm fine."
The Celtics will trot out the same starting 5 from Wednesday's opener in Bradley, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Vitor Faverani.
"Obviously, both teams are going to be hungry to get into the win column, so we’re going to have to play really well," Stevens said of a matchup of 0-1 foes. "We’re going to have to do a great job of defending their scorers, particularly from behind the arc. And then trying our best to manage the interior with these guys and hopefully we pick up on where we left off on the first and third quarters on Wednesday on the offensive end."
The Bucks are playing without guards Luke Ridnour (back) and Brandon Knight (hamstring). Gary Neal gets the start, but Stevens gushed about rookie backup Nate Wolters.
"It’s a really interesting thing. First of all, I think Brandon Knight’s really good; I think Ridnour’s really good," said Stevens. "But the guy I think that makes everybody better at the point for them is Wolters. It’s an interesting thing, I’m a big fan of Wolters. I have been, I’ve watched him play for a long time. He is a tremendous savvy guy, he can pass the ball, he can drive, he can score it, he can shoot off the dribble. I don’t know where he was ultimately picked, but he’s a heck of a pick because he can play the game. And I think he’s going to have a career here for a long time based on what I can see."
Though the Celtics as a team finished 36-of-94 from the floor (38.3 percent) and other players, like Kevin Garnett (6-for-22), struggled mightily from the field, Terry felt his own performance, which included a 1-for-9 mark from 3-point nation, played perhaps the greatest role in Boston's defeat.
"That was frustrating," Terry admitted afterward. "For me, being a shooter, you're getting looks that you wanted and they're not falling for you, especially when your team needs you most. Again, I take this one on my shoulders. Maybe it's the Bucks, I don't know. That's two tough ones for me against them. So, gotta shake it off. Gotta shake it off. Shooters shoot, so I guarantee you I'll be back out there tomorrow morning getting my shots up trying to make it right."
THE NITTY GRITTY
Paul Pierce followed up his 40-point outing in Wednesday's triumph over the Cavaliers by scoring a game-high 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting with 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals as he single-handedly carried the Celtics and helped spark an improbable comeback in the final seconds of regulation. Alas, the rest of the Celtics were simply off on this night, and the Bucks did enough to emerge in overtime. Monta Ellis scored a team-high 27 points, while Larry Sanders was a menace yet again, chipping in 17 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) with 20 rebounds. Kevin Garnett (6-of-22, 12 points) and Jason Terry (1-of-15 shooting, 4 points) just didn't have their shots as Boston shot 38.3 percent overall.
The Celtics closed out the final 3:46 of the third quarter on a 10-2 run sparked by defense. Boston forced four turnovers which turned into six points, and a Courtney Lee layup (off a Rondo steal) in the final second of the frame had Boston out front, 70-62. But the Celtics offense went ice cold, and the Bucks quickly rallied ahead early in the fourth quarter. The Celtics were down five with under four minutes to go when Pierce somehow willed in a 3-pointer in traffic to give his team a much-needed spark. Boston had multiple chances to tie, but Ellis produced a floater over Brandon Bass, and Sanders followed with a vicious alley-oop slam in transition as the Bucks went up seven with 42 seconds to play. That should have been enough, but ...
TURNING POINT II: IMPROBABLE COMEBACK
A pair of Pierce freebies (and two missed by Milwaukee) started Boston's comeback, which also featured a Jeff Green alley-oop from Rondo and a big defensive stand (Rondo stole a Jennings feed with nine ticks to go) to set the stage for Pierce's 3-pointer (a Green rebound of a Terry miss gave Pierce the second-chance attempt). But was it all for naught ...
TURNING POINT III: OVERTIME
Back-to-back buckets by Ellis -- sandwiched around four consecutive misses for the Celtics -- helped the Bucks pull away in overtime. An offensive rebound -- allowed off a missed free throw -- in a one-point game essentially spelled Boston's demise in the final moments.
Chasing a defensive rebound with 18 seconds remaining in overtime, Green took an elbow to the head from Ersan Ilyasova and needed medical attention from the team's training staff. He walked off hunched over with a towel over his face.
LOOSE BALLS: RONDO GETS A TECH
Rondo earned a technical foul -- his third of the season and first since being ejected versus Brooklyn -- for jawing at Brandon Jennings after a timeout call early in the first quarter. Rondo now leads the team with three technical fouls overall. ... Jared Sullinger (four points, seven rebounds) fouled out with 6:53 to play in regulation. Sullinger was the victim of some rookie whistles, including a couple blocking fouls that could have been charges.
WHAT IT MEANS
The roller coaster continues. Doc Rivers likes to note it's a make/miss league, and the Celtics couldn't get much of anything to fall (at least those not named Pierce). The Bucks win the four-game season series, 3-1, which could aid Milwaukee later in the season. The Celtics get three days of rest before a four-game road trip kicks off with a Christmas Day matinee in Brooklyn, then shifts out West to close out the calendar year.
BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics will be without forward/center Chris Wilcox (right thumb) and Leandro Barbosa (personal matter) during Friday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Wilcox dressed but did not play in Wednesday's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Rivers admitted he was going to hold Wilcox out anyhow while leaning on other big men (Wilcox has struggled defensively with rotations lately), but the thumb only encouraged him to keep Wilcox on the pine.
Barbosa is not with the team while he tends to the personal matter. To add some emergency depth, the Celtics recalled rookie forward Kris Joseph from the Maine Red Claws on Friday. Joseph is expected to remain with the team when it embarks on a four-game road trip starting with a Christmas day visit to Brooklyn before the Celtics head out west for three games to wrap up the calendar year.
Rivers said the Celtics will stick with "The Jasons" lineup featuring Jason Terry at shooting guard and Jason Collins at center alongside Boston's Big Three of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. He did downplay the hype around the latest batch of changes.
"I’ve said this 100 times: The starting lineup is not as important as everyone thinks it is," said Rivers. "I did that more from Kevin. In one way, just to get him some minutes at the 4 instead of the 5. And then, until Avery Bradley] comes back, for Jason Terry to get a shot. But other than that, I did like it, because Jason -- you don’t know which one, so I’ll let you figure it out -- his talking was terrific, it helped Kevin. I hope you guys can figure that one out."
And what did Garnett gain from having Collins alongside?
"He seemed like he had more energy. It’s one game, so it’s tough thing to look at," said Rivers. "If we play well tonight -- we’ll find out in a month what it does really. It looks like he had more energy, because he had another guy covering for him and he didn’t feel like he had to do everything on defense."
A couple other quick hits from pregame:
* Rivers on Bucks shot-blocker Larry Sanders, whom he compared to Oklahoma City swatter Serge Ibaka: "We should probably stop shooting when he’s right there. That would probably help, because he always blocks your shot. It’s funny, he does it to everybody. I actually told my son, Austin, when they played the Bucks, I said, ‘Hey Austin, be careful with Sanders, you get a step deep and he’ll get you.’ I think his first two shots were blocked, so I was thinking, ‘Nothing changes. No one listens.’"
* Rivers on playing the Bucks for the fourth time in 26 games: "What’s funny is, I don’t think any of the lineups have been the same on either team. It's four new games every time we play them. It’s early, I tell you, I obviously don’t love that. I just think you should play a team in your conference late in the season. But we’re going to make it up, we’re going to play the Knicks four times after this."
* THE BUCKS AGAIN?!: Improbably, this is the fourth (and final) meeting of the season for these two Eastern Conference foes. The Bucks spoiled Boston's home-opener with a 99-88 triumph and Boston got revenge with a 96-92 win in Milwaukee later that month. A late-game 3-pointer by Brandon Jennings helped the Bucks escape with a 91-88 victory earlier this month at the Bradley Center. While Boston hasn't seen an Atlantic Division rival like the New York Knicks yet, it will have played 15.4 percent of their schedule against the Bucks.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: The Bucks are one of the worst offenses in the league based on Synergy's points-per-play metric (0.875, 26th overall), but thrive in transition (1.202, 8th) and the Celtics absolutely have to force a half-court game. The backcourt of Jennings and Monta Ellis can score points (though not particularly efficiently) and last time out it was Larry Sanders who really burned Boston with an 18-point, 16-rebound effort. Defensively, the Bucks rank 10th overall in the league allowing 0.897 points per play and are actually a top-5 defense in the half-court set. Jennings hasn't graded out well (0.883 points per play, 38th percentile) and Rajon Rondo must attempt to exploit him. Old friend Marquis Daniels has actually been pretty solid (his defensive numbers returning to form this season), ranking in the 94th percentile at 0.687 points per play and it will be interesting to see if he can help slow Paul Pierce coming off a 40-point effort.
* CAN C'S STAY BIG? The Celtics snapped a three-game losing streak with a win over the Cavaliers on Wednesday while shuffling Jason Collins and Jason Terry onto the starting unit. Coach Doc Rivers paired Collins and Kevin Garnett together often, allowing Garnett to play more of his natural power forward position. The Celtics will have to be efficient offensively because the Bucks will attempt to run against Boston's size when they generate stops.
* BENCH ROULETTE: Rivers noted during an interview with WEEI on Thursday that each night a player or two are not stepping up. He didn't name names, but Boston's bench has been woefully inconsistent and prone to lulls that have made every game a grind (just look at Wednesday's win over Cleveland in which a 20-point third-quarter lead got whittled to two). Boston needs its bench, as fluid as it's been, to find some consistency soon.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Larry Sanders (18 points, 16 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Ersan Ilyasova (15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) provided a much-needed bench spark for the slow-starting Bucks, but it was Brandon Jennings (13 points, 6 rebounds) who produced the biggest shot of the night with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 24 seconds to play to lift rally-happy Milwaukee. Celtics captain Paul Pierce scored a game-high 19 points on 6-of-16 shooting, while Jason Terry added a double-double (15 points, 11 assists), but both players missed long 3-pointers in the closing moments that could have forced overtime.
A DOMINANT START FOR C'S
The Celtics picked up right where they left off Friday, playing inspired defense from the jump and holding the Bucks scoreless over the game's first 5 1/2 minutes. Boston made seven of its first eight shots while opening a 17-0 lead before Ilyasova's 16-footer broke up the shutout with 6:29 to play in the first frame. The Bucks shot a mere 26.3 percent (5-of-19) in the first quarter and mustered only 11 points as Boston led by 16 after one frame. But the Bucks wasted little time making things interesting again.
BUCKS ROAR BACK
Everything good that Boston did in the first quarter disappeared in the second. Ilyasova and Sanders lit the fuse, and the Bucks shot 63.6 percent (14-of-22) while outscoring Boston 36-21 in the second frame. The Celtics led by just one at the intermission, and a Monta Ellis layup 91 seconds into the third quarter gave Milwaukee its first lead of the night.
The Bucks opened a six-pont advantage early in the fourth quarter, but Boston chipped away, then appeared to be taking control when Jeff Green and Pierce hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Celtics out front 88-85 with 1:44 to go. Unfazed, Milwaukee got a generous offensive foul call on Kevin Garnett (negating what would have been an easy bucket) before generating a dunk from Sanders to make it a one-point game. That set up Jennings' heroics with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc. The Celtics had three chances at triples to pull ahead or tie, and none would fall.
WHAT IT MEANS
Considering the way the game started, it's somewhat improbable that Boston fumbled away this game. A 17-point lead should be somewhat insurmountable, but there still were 41 minutes to play, and the Bucks didn't even bother chipping away; they simply made things interesting again in a hurry. Garnett (17 points, 7 rebounds) and Green (18 points, 6 rebounds) shouldered the load for Boston at times, but things just slipped away late and Milwaukee made some big shots. The Celtics are left kicking themselves while falling to 9-8 on the season. Boston had a chance to pick up two wins while Rajon Rondo was suspended but kicked this one away. The Celtics will be left with that bitter taste in their mouths for three days before getting back on the court Wednesday when old friend Greg Stiemsma and the Minnesota Timberwolves visit TD Garden.
* BUCKS A TREND: In a league with 30 teams, this is improbably the third time this season these two teams will meet. The Bucks spoiled Boston's home-opener with a 99-88 triumph at TD Garden and Boston got revenge in Milwaukee eight days later with a 96-92 victory. While Boston won't see the Knicks, an Atlantic Division rival, for the first time until early January, the Celtics and Bucks will have already concluded their four-game season series by that point. Milwaukee comes back to the Garden on Dec. 21 and accounts for four of Boston's first 26 games overall this season. Needless to say, familiarity won't be an issue, though the Bucks catch a break with Rajon Rondo serving the back half of a two-game suspension.
* ANOTHER TEST FOR LEE: Coming off his best all-around effort in a Celtics uniform, particularly on the defensive end, Courtney Lee will likely be called upon to help control the Bucks' potent backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Lee and Jason Terry did a nice job limiting rookie Damian Lillard's success in the pick-and-roll on Friday, but Jennings and Ellis will look to turn this thing into a track meet as the Bucks thrive in transition. Jennings had a big game in Boston, while Ellis got hot in Milwaukee during the last meeting.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: The game plan will be the same for Boston: Force a half-court game by taking away Milwaukee's ability to run. The Bucks rank fourth in transition offense, but are 29th in half-court sets. Defensively, the Bucks are middle of the pack, but the Celtics were able to lean on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett the last visit.
* WEATHERING THE STORM: As their record hammers home, the Celtics have been up and down all season. The team keeps showing encouraging signs, only to regress. Boston has also often allowed lesser-quality opponents to hang around (see last week's overtime win in Orlando after beating Oklahoma City two days earlier). The Celtics took care of business on Friday and now have a chance to send themselves into a three-day break with some momentum. What's more, they can do it while having endured Rondo's absence for the suspension. That will do wonders for this team's confidence, which could use a boost with an uptick in strength of schedule approaching this month.
"It was a good win because it was a hard win," Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters. "I mean, Milwaukee, they play hard and they're playing well. I thought we were searching in the first half for the right group. We went small, which I thought was huge for us. I thought we found an offensive set for the second unit, where they could be comfortable in. So, this season, it's a long season. We've just got to keep finding ourselves and finding what works for us."
A closer look at the good, bad and ugly from Boston's 96-92 triumph at the Bradley Center:
GREEN UNLOCKED: Through three quarters, it looked like more of the same for Jeff Green and his frustration-filled start to the season. But Green put together a spectacular final frame with strong play at both ends of the court and it might be enough to unlock him moving forward.
Green had more turnovers (3) than rebounds (2) and had missed all four shots he had taken entering the fourth quarter. But he turned in an inspired nine minutes in the final frame, producing three aggressive drives to the basket for layups while scoring eight of his 12 points overall.
It was a hustle play on the defensive end that highlighted Green's night. Paul Piece misfired on a 3-pointer in a one-possession game with less than six minutes to go and the Bucks attacked in transition. Mike Dunleavy caught a long feed while streaking to the basket from the right side, but Green raced back and delivered a stellar left-handed, chase-down swat to prevent what should have been a game-tying layup.
Green later capped his night by forcing a key turnover by Ersan Ilyasova near the Milwaukee basket with eight seconds to play in a two-point game. Rivers liked what he saw on the floor.
"I think we forget that Jeff sat out a whole year last year, and just because he played well in preseason, I think people -- it's going to take him time," Rivers said. "It's going to take him time to get comfortable. When he plays like that we're a better team."
Green's final stat line: 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting with three rebounds, two blocks and three turnovers. The only negative The Celtics were still minus-1 with him on the floor, but that was more indicative of the second unit's first-half struggles.
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