There was a playoff atmosphere in the Bradley Center on Saturday night as both the Celtics and the Bucks looked to set the tone for a potential first round playoff matchup.
After getting trounced at home by the Washington Wizards the night before, the Celtics needed to come out and make a statement. That statement would not come from Kevin Garnett, however, as the Celtics chose to give him the night off.
Fortunately for the Celtics, they would not have to face Andrew Bogut, who had a season- ending injury back on April 3. This year, Bogut was the Bucks' team leader in points per game, rebounding, field goal percentage, and blocked shots. Plus, the 7-foot Australian has torched the Celtics, averaging 25 ppg and 15.5 rpg in this season’s first two meetings between these teams.
Although the Bucks won three in a row without Bogut, the loss of their center is colossal. But on Saturday night they showed the Celtics that they had no plans of backing down as they opened up a nine point lead early in the first quarter.
So after getting booed at the Garden Friday night for getting whipped by a Wizards team that lost their three best players, the Celtics were getting overpowered by a Bucks team who lost their best player.
The Celtics were searching for answers.
Celtics color man Tommy Heinsohn, stated that, “The first unit started off and looked like they never got out of bed. They weren’t guarding anybody and all of a sudden the bench comes into play...They picked up the pace, they got aggressive and just attacked the basket…all good stuff…Gave them a different dimension to what they were trying to do.”
The Celtics bench performed well on the defensive end as they put pressure on the Bucks, took them out of their offensive rhythm, and forced them to take a lot of off balanced and highly contested shots.
On the offensive end, the Celtics’ backup guards, Tony Allen and Nate Robinson, penetrated through the defense and scored at the rim. The Celtics’ backup forwards, Sheldon Williams and Glen Davis, went up strong in the paint, took the Bucks’ hits, got to the line, and knocked down free throws with consistency.
Brandon Jennings looked strong in the first half for the Bucks, putting up 12 points on four three-pointers. But the Celtics still fought their way back within one point late in the first half, and with 11 seconds to go, Rajon Rondo snatched the rebound off a Luke Ridnour miss, drove down court and hit a cutting Paul Pierce with a one-handed dish. Pierce laid it up and in to give the C’s a one-point lead to take into halftime.
The Celtics’ bench carried them through the first half, but it was Paul Pierce who led the Celtics’ second half charge with Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen coming up with major contributions as well. Rondo finished with 15 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds while Ray had 21 points on 5-7 shooting from the field.
Pierce drained his first seven field goal attempts of the second half, had 10 points in the third quarter, and finished the game with 24 points and six rebounds.
The Celtics opened up a 10-point lead with just under six minutes to go. The Bucks put together a little bit of a run to cut the lead to six and energize their home crowd. But Pierce answered with a step back jumper to extend the Celtics’ lead to eight. Carlos Delfino nailed a three to bring the margin back to five points.
Once again the Celtics called on Pierce to deliver, and once again, he did not disappoint as he rose up over Jerry Stackhouse to knock down the jumper and extend Boston’s lead yet again.
Heinsohn had this to say about Paul Pierce: “This is the best performance I’ve seen him have in a while. He’s got to play top level basketball for the Celtics to really go deep into the playoffs.”
The last few minutes featured some fireworks. The Bucks’ Kurt Thomas threw Glen Davis to the ground as he went up for a shot in the lane. Davis popped back up and gave Thomas a little body check. The refs intervened, Thomas was given a flagrant, and Davis, Stackhouse, and Pierce got tangled up in a small physical confrontation which earned them both technicals.
Boston went on to win 105-90.
The Celtics square off against the Bucks one more time for their last game of the regular season at the Garden next Wednesday night. If these two teams meet in the first round of the playoffs, Bogut or no Bogut, there will be blood.