The game was over from the get-go. The Celtics dominated the pace of the game early, allowing the Bucks only nine points in the first quarter and 22 in the first half, the lowest of any NBA team this season.
The win marked the end of a two-game losing skid, which has brought the second place Chicago Bulls just half a game away from Boston and the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
This performance by the Celtics set the benchmark for the remaining 18 games of the season. Battling injuries and a lack of cohesion with the second unit, the remaining portion of the season will be a grind for the C's.
They don't need 31-point beatdowns. They don't need record setting defensive performances. They don't even need nightly Gino sightings.
But the Celtics do need the starting unit to come out early and establish the pace of games on both ends of the floor, which is exactly what they got tonight. If the C's want to hold onto the top spot in the East, guaranteeing homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, consistency from the Big Four (plus Krstic) is a must.
Coming into tonight, in the nine games since the All-Star break, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo have all averaged more minutes than in the 54 games prior. Perhaps most alarming, Garnett is averaging a full 3.0 MPG more since the break. Rondo is averaging over 39.0 MPG since the break and 38.0 MPG on the season.
If the Celtics truly want to be at their peak come playoff time, those minutes have to come down. Not only will that give the starting unit some much needed rest, but it should pay dividends in the postseason by allowing the second unit enough playing time to forge a real chemistry.
Tonight, the C's followed that to the letter. The starters successfully stifled the anemic Milwaukee offense at the beginning of each respective half. As a result, they were rewarded with (relatively speaking) the night off. Only one starter (Allen) reached the 30-minute mark. Garnett played only 25 minutes, and Rondo actually played fewer minutes (23) than his backup Carlos Arroyo (25).
Jumping on a team early and not allowing them back into the game does wonders for the confidence of the second unit, who gave the Celtics 35 points on the night. Two reserves—Arroyo and Jeff Green—gave the Celtics 25 and 23 minutes respectively. Three others—Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic, and Glen Davis—gave the C's 17-, 16- and 18-minute efforts.
Murphy, who was just 1-for-11 (0.091 percent) from the field since joining the Celtics, dropped 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting. Arroyo, who continues to impress fans with his cool demeanor and high basketball IQ, recorded six dimes.
The C's even got quality performances from Green, Pavlovic and Davis in his return from a strained knee.
All of this stemmed from the play of the starting unit. By giving these types of hard-nosed, well-balanced efforts, the starting unit of the Celtics will be able to cut down on their own playing time while boosting the production of the bench.
It's a moot point, but how exactly this team looks heading into the playoffs hinges directly on the performance of the Big Four.
Dan is a Boston Celtics featured columnist. Follow him on twitter @dantheman_06.
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