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Well, I’ll give the Celtics one thing. As far as a team the Bucks can learn from, they won’t be a bad playoff opponent. It looks like it’ll make for an entertaining series to boot.
In another game that had a couple chippy moments, the Bucks lost a game that didn’t really mean all that much in front of a sold out Bradley Center crowd Saturday night, 105-90. And when I say it didn’t mean all that much, I’m referring to the fact that it’s looking more and more like these two teams are going to end up seeing each other in the first round of the playoffs. Atlanta won again Saturday, they’ll likely beat out Boston for the third seed and while the Bucks lost, they still hold a half game lead for fifth and have a tiebreaker over Miami. But I think a few things in this one meant a little something.
Teams that play hard defense can occasionally rub their opponents the wrong way and both the Celtics and the Bucks do this. Teams that have won a championship with a core that’s slipping off the top of its perch often give the impression to new challengers that they aren’t worthy. Boston has won a title with this core. Teams that haven’t made the playoffs in some time and are making their first run together often want to prove like they belong. That’d be the Bucks. So we’re looking at a first round series between the “Old Irish” and the “Young Bucks”, one on the way down, the other on the way up. They’ll meet in the middle, chips on shoulders in tow.
So believe me when I write that the miniature dust-ups mean at least mean a little something. No one wants to be disrespected in the NBA. No one.
But the Celtics are a great first round opponent for tons of reasons. Not just because they appear most beatable, but because the Bucks can learn lots from their guys. They can see the intensity they’ll need. They can feel the type of defense pressure that wins games in the playoffs. They can see a star at work in fourth quarters in Paul Pierce, watch what he does and how he operates.
But not all the Celtics serve that purpose. Some of the Celtics are in need of some learning themselves. Frankly, on Saturday night, Glen “Big Baby” Davis looked like, well, pardon the obvious pun, but, a Big Baby. His reaction to a hard foul by Kurt Thomas led to a technical for his time, an on court talking to by Celtics Coach Doc Rivers and … a flagrant foul on Thomas? Perhaps Davis did know what he was doing. It’s possible he was just working the refs.
Ah, working the refs. Few skills seem more difficult to develop in the NBA or as valuable. The Celtics are always reminding the refs which team has a title under the belt, though not so obviously. Constantly, you’ll see a Celtic put their arm around the ref, scowl after a call or, in Rasheed Wallace’s case, scream “and one” every shot attempt. This was a Michael Redd specialty and, truth be told, may be the area where the Bucks will miss him most during the playoffs. But playing the masters of this craft will give the Bucks an up close and personal tutoring session on this ever so necessary skill.
Of course, Milwaukee will have plenty of time to watch and learn once this regular season gets out of the way and the playoffs start. This was simply the appetizer before round one. Hopefully Milwaukee was paying attention.
The Celtics have a terrific defense. They’re tough to beat. That being said, any team can get out of their comfort zone and make some mistakes. So what did Scott Skiles try and do? Get the Celtics out of their comfort zone. Milwaukee spent the majority of the third quarter “going small” with a lineup consisting of Brandon Jennings, John Salmons, Jerry Stackhouse, Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova. And the results were mixed. They kept it close, but couldn’t overtake Boston. Milwaukee saw their gap vary from one to five points, but could never take the lead. A shot here or a shot there falls differently, and who knows how we’re looking at this game right now.
What’s most important is that Milwaukee was able to dictate the game in the third quarter. Coach Skiles:
We just weren’t making any headway. It’s strictly to, hopefully, get them to play the game we are trying to get them to play rather than the game they are playing right now, which we can’t do anything with. And we did. Unfortunately their smalls played better than ours the rest of the game.
Boston initially left their bigs on the court, but then countered with various combinations of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Pierce, Tony Allen, Wallace and Kedrick Perkins.
- As it typically is, shooting percentage was an issue for Milwaukee. The Bucks were under 40% for the second time in the four games without Andrew Bogut. Milwaukee is now 3-13 when shooting under 40%.
- A much needed strong game shooting the ball came from Jennings (7-11 FG 4-6 3FG), who finished with 21 point. Milwaukee will need more outings like this from him come playoff time. He did a great job of hitting open shots of penetration or ball swings back to him. Sometimes he struggles with those, already set-up waiting to catch open threes, but he was hitting them against Boston.
Rondo goes wherever he wants, that’s a problem. The Celtics have shot over 30 free throws twice in the three games Milwaukee has played them, that’s a problem. But an issue that may be even more troubling than either of those two and more difficult to control, is Paul Pierce.
That Paul Pierce midrange jumper I’ve heard so much about lately? It looked pretty good against Milwaukee. Was his answer for every Milwaukee made baskets a minor annoyance, like a baby waking up over night? Or is this Pierce hitting jumpers against Milwaukee thing going to last throughout the next few weeks and be a big problem, like a baby becoming a toddler.
Pierce finished with 24 points on Saturday (10-17 FG 4-4 FT) and didn’t miss a shot in scoring 10 points in critical fashion during the third quarter. Eight of his points came with the Bucks either winning by one (at the very start of the quarter) or the Celtics holding the one point lead after a Bucks basket. He constantly had answers.
If Milwaukee can find a way to box him up some, they’ll be in much better shape against the C’s.
- Don’t get me wrong though, I’m worried about Rondo. He has so many tricks and ball fakes it’s nearly impossible to keep track of him or the rock. Fortunately, Rondo still is a very poor shooter, so if the Bucks can find a way to wall him out of the paint they’ll have a fighting chance against him. That’s much easier said than done though. He had a very loud 15 points (5-14 FG 5-8 FT) and 10 assists Saturday.
A barrage of late technical fouls and silliness made this score look a little worse than it should have. Coach Skiles got rang defending his guys and Jerry Stackhouse picked one up in scrumming it up with Paul Pierce. Stackhouse wrote it all off to playoff intensity and let us know we should be expecting more to come. He said it’d be an entertaining series if it comes to be that Milwaukee plays Boston. And I don’t know about you, but I’m rarely one to disagree with Jerry Stackhouse.