After another painful first half for viewers, the Boston Celtics showed some progress on both offense and defense in the second half to knock off the Milwaukee Bucks, 96-92, Saturday night at the Bradley Center.
The steady captain, Paul Pierce, played with urgency from the tip off, diving on the floor for loose balls and throwing his body around in the paint to protect the hoop and grab rebounds. Pierce scored 25 points, including 8 points in the fourth quarter, but he received some late-game help from an unlikely source: Jeff Green.
Green scored 8 points in the final frame and blocked Ersan Ilyasova’s shot on Milwaukee’s final chance to secure the win. In fact, Doc Rivers subbed Green in for Courtney Lee specifically to have him on defense for the final play, which seemed like an odd decision, considering it meant Pierce was matched up with Brandon Jennings and Rondo on Monta Ellis.
With Avery Bradley out, Lee is Boston’s best on-ball, perimeter defender. So far, however, Lee has struggled to adapt to River’s defensive system, allowing back-door layups, gambling for steals, and rotating late on the backside of the defense. Though it’s been a few seasons since Lee played with Dwight Howard, he still has a few habits molded by having the best defensive center of the generation to back you up. Boston’s defense is predicated much more on communication and rotation and Lee isn’t instinctive in the schemes quite yet.
Lee was not the only Celtic missing rotations on defense in the first half, despite the Bucks scoring only 42 points. Before Ellis (32 points) got hot in the second half, he and Jennings missed a lot of open shots. Boston’s pick-and-roll defense continued to get diced up, and, surprisingly, Kevin Garnett was one of the guy’s to blame for the porous defense. Larry Sanders and Samuel Dalembert had far too many wide open looks at the rim in the first half for Rivers’ liking.
Midway through the third quarter, the Celtics ratcheted up their intensity, blitzing pick-and-rolls more often and using ball and player movement to free up open shots long the perimeter. Jason Terry, who started in place of Lee, sunk two three-pointers early in the third quarter to pump some life back into the team. Terry (15 points, 5-7 FG) also scored three consecutive baskets in a first quarter Celtics run with Garnett on the bench. Brandon Bass (8 points, 7 rebounds) also started in Jared Sullinger’s stead.
In the fourth quarter, Pierce and Green shouldered the load and the Celtics began to finally make some of the open shots they were seeing.
- Rondo extended his streak of consecutive games with at least 10 assists to 30 games.
- Chris Wilcox made a major impact in the first quarter, but still appeared out of shape, and his returns diminished with extended playing time.
- Taken out of the starting lineup, Jared Sullinger played just 7 minutes.
- Brandon Jennings shot 1-for-11.
- Marquis Daniels scored 12 points off the bench and played crunch time fourth quarter minutes for the Bucks. He also wore a headband that was not quite a bad as Spencer Hawes’ headband, but certainly wasn’t the cutest.
- Courtney Lee played 28 minutes and took just 3 shots.