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Fast Break: Celtics go Buck-hunting 03.06.11 at 11:39 pm ET
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The Celtics have reached the non-glamorous portion of their schedule, but the games with the Bucks cont just the same as their network showdowns with the Lakers, Heat and Magic. With 21 games left, the Celtics have two goals: Integrate their new players into something that resembles a workable rotation and try to get the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Winning road games against teams like Milwaukee — who play good defense and make you grind it out — and with only nine players is what great NBA teams do. The Celtics escaped with an 89-83 victory thanks to clutch play from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and took another step toward achieving their season-long goal.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce comes up big: With Rajon Rondo (eight turnovers) and Ray Allen both struggling, Pierce picked up the slack and scored 23 points to go with five rebounds and four assists. Pierce was the best player on the floor for the Celtics.

Kevin Garnett, clutch defensively: With time running out and the Celtics clinging to a three-point lead, Garnett stopped the Bucks dead with a huge blocked shot. On the previous possession, Garnett knocked down a 15 foot jumper that gave the Celtics a four-point lead.

Nenad Krstic in the low post: The Celtics knew what they were getting when the traded for Krstic — a dependable 7-footer with decent shooting range. But what they didn’t know is that he also has a very good back to the basket game. That’s because the Thunder just didn’t have any use for it. But Krstic is not only a good shooter — he made his first six shots — he’s a solid passer. The Celtics have been looking for a low-post presence for years and while Krstic lacks the brute force of Shaquille O’Neal, he is capable of providing offense.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Injury delay for Shaq: A few days have stretched into a few weeks and now we are working on a few months before Shaquille O’Neal returns to the team. Doc Rivers told reporters in Milwaukee that Shaq would probably not return against the Clippers on Wednesday as planned and his return date is still anyone’s guess. It’s beginning to look like it might be a race between Shaq and Jermaine to see which O’Neal will get back on the court first.

Offensive rebounds and turnovers: The Celtics old problems didn’t go away with their new cast of characters. The Bucks destroyed them on the glass for the first half with 10 offensive rebounds and the Celtics hurt their own cause with 17 turnovers (eight by Rondo).

Bench issues: With Carlos Arroyo on his way to Boston and the O’Neals, Delonte West, Von Wafer and Glen Davis all out with injuries, the Celtics had just nine players and their second unit consisted of Avery Bradley and three guys who have been with the team for about 10 days. While Jeff Green continues to find his way, Troy Murphy still has not made a shot and Sasha Pavlovic threw up an airball on his first attempt. The bench played better in the second half, maintaining a slim lead before turning it back over to the starters.

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Preview: Bucks at Celtics 11.03.10 at 11:54 am ET
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As the 2009-10 season entered the final stretch, the team that none of the Eastern Conference contenders wanted to play in the first round was the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks went 10-4 in February and 11-4 in March, but on the night of April, 3 Andrew Bogut lost control during a dunk and landed with a sickening thud, injuring his right hand, elbow and wrist.

Bogut had surgery on his broken hand a week later and missed the rest of the season and the playoffs. Even without their center, who was named third-team All-NBA, the Bucks still took the Hawks to seven games in the first round. The Celtics missed matching up with Milwaukee after Miami beat New Jersey in overtime on the regular season’s final day making the Bogut injury an interesting what-if?

The Celtics didn’t really hit their stride until halfway through the Cavaliers series. Would they have even advanced that far against a healthy Bucks team? Would they be back as currently constituted if they had bombed out in the first round?

Bogut has returned, although he told the Journal-Sentinel that he doesn’t think he’ll be 100 percent this season. In four games this season, Bogut is averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes a night. But Bogut isn’t the only Milwaukee player dealing with an injury. John Salmons sat out the entire preseason with a sprained knee and he has struggled early.

The Bucks were a surprisingly active player last summer, re-signing Salmons and adding Drew Gooden, while trading for Corey Maggette. Those moves suggested that the Bucks are trying to win now, and while they are off to a slow start they have the pieces to be in the East’s next tier of contenders behind Boston, Miami and Orlando.

This is the second night of a back-to-back for the Celtics as they enter a stretch of five games in seven days. They handled their business against Detroit in surprisingly easy fashion Tuesday and will look to build upon that performance tonight.

BUCKS (1-3)

Offensive Rating: 97.0 (28th)

Defensive Rating: 102.3 (8th)

Pace: 90.2 (28th)

Probable Starters: Brandon Jennings, John Salmons, Carlos Delfino, Drew Gooden, Andrew Bogut

Injuries: Michael Redd (Knee, out), Chris Douglas-Roberts (Eye, out), Darlington Hobson (Hip, out)

CELTICS (3-1)

Offensive Rating: 105.6 (15th)

Defensive Rating: 98.2 (4th)

Pace: 92.1 (25th)

Probable Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal

Injuries: Shaquille O’Neal (Knee, questionable), Avery Bradley (Ankle, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out), Delonte West (Suspension)

KEY MATCHUP: Brandon Jennings vs. Rajon Rondo

Rondo has decimated the opposition in the first four games, racking up 67 assists, the best four-game start in NBA history. Jennings is among a crop of young, talented point guards trying to make their own name in the league.

While still only 24 years old, Rondo has already ascended to the top tier which also consists of Chris Paul and Deron Williams. The order depends on your perspective. The challenge for Rondo this season is to play at a high level every night because he has gone from the hunter to the hunted.

KEY NUMBER: Field goal percentage

The big problem for the Bucks is that they are shooting 40 percent in their first four games. The only perimeter player who has shot a consistently high percentage has been Carlos Delfino, who 15-for-31 from 3-point range. Jennings, Salmons and Maggette have all struggled with their shooting, although Maggette is 29-for-29 from the free throw line.

The Celtics are off to a solid defensive start in all phases. They will need to continue to clamp down on the Bucks scorers and hit the glass when the shots are off.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

This is a chance for the Celtics to build some early-season momentum. They play the Bulls Friday and then hit the road for games at Oklahoma City, Dallas, Miami and Memphis. The players have talked about reestablishing their home court advantage and the next few games would be a good time to start.

Read More: Bucks, Celtics, Preview, Rajon Rondo
Heat or Bucks? 04.12.10 at 2:44 pm ET
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The Celtics find themselves in an interesting position with two games left in the regular season. They will play either Miami or Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs and they have some control over the outcome, but not total control.

To review: The Celtics sit one game behind Atlanta for third in the Eastern Conference, but the C’s own the tiebreaker. The Heat and Bucks are tied for fifth, but the Bucks own the tiebreaker with Miami.

If things stay as they are the Celtics will open the first round with Milwaukee, but things are not likely to stay the same. That’s because Milwaukee hosts Atlanta tonight [Monday] and then travels to Boston for the regular-season finale Wednesday.

If Atlanta wins, the Hawks can just about wrap up third and almost guarantee a first-round matchup with the Bucks. If not, the whole thing becomes a jumble. The Heat play at Philly Monday and then host New Jersey Wednesday, so if the Bucks stumble Miami had a good chance to climb into fifth.

Which brings us back to the Celtics and whether they should have a preference in a first-round opponent. On the face of things, not really.

Milwaukee and Miami have identical records and have been two of the hottest teams down the stretch. Milwaukee has gone 21-7 since acquiring John Salmons at the trade deadline, while the Heat have won 16 of their last 20. Both are also strong defensive teams who rarely turn the ball over.

But that’s where the similarities stop. The Heat are incredibly reliant on the individual brilliance of Dwyane Wade who leads the team in points, assists and steals. He has also taken almost 500 more shots and free throws than any of his teammates.

The Bucks do not have nearly that kind of star power and they’re best player, Andrew Bogut, is injured and unavailable. Playing Milwaukee seems like the obvious choice, and indeed it may be (Zach Lowe at Celtics Hub makes a strong case here), but let’s examine both sides. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fast break: Celtics edged by Bucks 03.09.10 at 10:28 pm ET
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It’s been a while since the Celtics played a tough, competitive game against a solid opponent. They’ve had close games, but hardly well-played close games.

That wasn’t the case Tuesday night in Milwaukee as the Celtics and Bucks played a back-and-forth affair with neither team able to grab much of an advantage. The Bucks escaped with an 86-84 win, but for the first time in a while, it wasn’t because of lack of effort or focus on the part of the Celtics. Milwaukee just made one more play than the Celtics did.

With Andrew Bogut dominating the paint for the Bucks and the Celtics curiously going away from Ray Allen (only three shot attempts), the burden fell on Rajon Rondo. The guard continued to attack the paint, and got knocked down more than a few times for his efforts.

Rondo finished with 20 points and six assists, but he needed help and there wasn’t much to be found. Down by two points on the final possession, Paul Pierce shot a contested jumper that hit iron. The four-game winning streak is over and the Celtics have another game Wednesday night back home in Boston against Memphis.

They still have not atoned for the New Jersey loss, but the signs of progress are still there.

Turning Point: There really wasn’t one. The Bucks made a few more plays than the Celtics, including a back-tap offensive rebound that allowed them to run more clock in the final minute. But there was no definitive point when either team grabbed control of the game.

Player of the Game: There’€™s probably no bigger fan of Andrew Bogut’€™s game than Doc Rivers. The Celtics coach has gone out of his way to praise the big man for his ability to shoot with both hands and use his body to create angles. Rivers may be a fan, but he couldn’€™t have liked what he saw Tuesday night as Bogut killed the Celtics with 25 points and 17 rebounds.

* Michael Finley debuted for the Celtics and he made his first shot, a 17-footer and also knocked down his first 3-pointer giving him five points in his first run. Brian Scalabrine was inactive.

* Nate Robinson buried two timely 3-pointers at the end of the first quarter. Robinson’€™s shot-making was just about the only bright spot for the Celtics in the quarter and helped slice a Buck lead from eight to two.

* The Celtics bench outscored Milwaukee’s 29-9, but didn’t see much time in the second half.

* Glen Davis gave a hard foul to Brandon Jennings early in the fourth quarter. Jennings didn’t care for it and they both received technical fouls after the play.

* Carlos Delfino’s 3-point shooting kept the Bucks in the game early, but he he almost shot them out of it late.

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Third quarter: Celtics-Bucks at 9:47 pm ET
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After three quarters, we’ve got a good game brewing in Milwaukee with the Celtics holding a 68-64 lead. Both teams are shooting right around 47 percent. The Celtics have shot 20 free throws to the Bucks eight, but Milwaukee has gone 6-for-10 from 3-point range.

Kevin Garnett has already recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Rajon Rondo has 12 points, six assists and one vicious put-back slam dunk. Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut has been a one-man wrecking crew with 19 points and 13 rebounds.

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Halftime: Celtics-Bucks at 9:05 pm ET
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Michael Finley debuted for the Celtics and he and the bench helped push the Celtics to a 46-42 lead at the half.

Finley made his first shot, a 17-footer and also knocked down his first 3-pointer giving him five points. Marquis Daniels also has five points, while Nate Robinson leads the bench with six points, two steals and untold amounts of energy. The Celtics bench is outscoring their Milwaukee counterparts, 20-8.

Kevin Garnett added eight points and nine rebounds and Rajon Rondo has eight points and four assists. Fresh off his 25-point effort against the Wizards, Ray Allen has taken just one shot.

Carlos Delfino has 11 points for the Bucks and he made all three of his 3-point attempts. His shooting is keeping them in the game.

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First quarter: Celtics-Bucks at 8:34 pm ET
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There’s probably no bigger fan of Andrew Bogut’s game than Doc Rivers. The Celtics coach has gone out of his way to praise the big man for his ability to shoot with both hands and use his body to create angles. Rivers may be a fan, but he couldn’t have liked what he saw in the first quarter as Bogut killed the Celtics with 10 points and six rebounds.

Despite Bogut’s brilliance the Celtics trail by only two, 24-22 as Nate Robinson buried two timely 3-pointers at the end of the quarter. Robinson’s shotmaking was just about the only bright spot for the Celtics thus far.

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