BOSTON — A pivotal moment of the Celtics 2010-11 regular season came with 22 seconds left in Sunday night’s win against the Milwaukee Bucks, as two seemingly meaningless free throws were shot at the tail end of a laughable blowout at the TD Garden.
On the Bucks’ final possession of their rather hideous loss, Keyon Dooling drew a foul from the Celtics’ Carlos Arroyo and got to the line for two. The Bucks were down 87-56, but a lot was on the line.
The Bucks were looking to steer clear of their all-time lowest game score, a mark of 58 set in 2003 against the SuperSonics. The Celtics were hoping to break their record for fewest points allowed (57) from a win over the Milwaukee Hawks way back in 1955.
Incredibly, Dooling missed both free throws. History was made.
“I didn’t have my NBA record book with me on the bench [Sunday],” joked Paul Pierce, who played 23 minutes and shut down Carlos Delfino for most of them. “I didn’t realize it.
“It was definitely encouraging to put together a four-quarter game of defense,” he added. “I definitely thought we did that [Sunday]. Especially integrating a lot of new players, and coming off of two losses, it was good to get back to being comfortable in our building and playing the type of defense we like to play.”
Any team would love to play defense like this. The Celtics held the Bucks to 31.4 percent shooting for the night, a number that was actually inflated in the fourth quarter when the C’s intensity let up. They kept the Bucks to only nine points in the first quarter, 13 in the second and 16 in the third. Only Earl Barron cracked double figures in scoring, dropping 10 points in 10 minutes of garbage time.
It’s fitting that the Celtics, who have put together an all-time great defensive juggernaut in the last few years under Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett, were able to etch their names into the franchise record book. Then again, Rivers himself is downplaying it.
“Did we set a record? I didn’t know that,” the coach deadpanned. “I really thought this was one of those ‘schedule losses’ for Milwaukee. It was very similar to the game we had against Phoenix — you play a game, you lose an hour going backwards. Then they lost another hour with the [daylight savings] time change. And then we started at 6 o’clock. You looked at the schedule, and you knew it. They’d be tired. We took advantage of that, though, and it was great.
“Our defense was good, but you don’t know how good our defense was [Sunday]. But I would say our effort was phenomenal. And that’s all we talked about — we’re trying to sustain effort longer defensively, and get back to doing that now that we’re starting to get our bodies back. That’s what we need to do.”
The Celtics are starting to come together now, as Rivers welcomes more and more healthy players back into the fold. Besides the five guys who have arrived in Boston over the last couple weeks via trades and buyouts, the C’s added one more body recently in Glen Davis, who returned Sunday from a knee injury. They’re likely getting Delonte West back on Wednesday, too.
Piece by piece, the real Celtics are being assembled and as they come together, they will deliver a couple of similar shut-down defensive efforts.
“It’s great defense,” said newcomer Jeff Green. “That’s how we’ve got to play. That’s how you win games.
“When we try and defend as hard as we can and not allow teams to get easy looks at the rim, then things happen that way. It just had to be one of those nights for Milwaukee, and I’m glad that we were on the winning end of it.”