Game over, Celtics win 96-92: The free throw shooting did not exactly come through. Terry and Pierce both split a pair of free throws to keep the Bucks kicking right up to the end, but in place of stellar free throw shooting, the Celtics played standout defense.
Garnett and Green paired to snuff out a drive by Ellis when the Bucks were down by two, and once Boston had a three-point lead thanks to Pierce’s free throw, it was a matter of giving a foul to limit Jennings to only two free throws and not a potential game-tying three.
An inauspicious beginning gave way to a strong finish teamwide for the Celtics. Pierce fell short of Ellis’ game-high 32 points with only 25 points on his own, but Pierce’s offensive eruption in the second half helped carry Boston to the victory. Rondo had a double-double of 10 points and 10 assists, but his streak of games with 11-plus assists came to an end.
Fourth quarter, :25.3, Celtics 91-90: Celtics fans have to been looking at Daniels thinking, “Who is this guy?”
Daniels became the Bucks’ go-to guy with the Celtics focused on Ellis and Jennings defensively. Daniels free throws were pivotal in cutting Milwaukee’s deficit to one possession, and his jumper on a frantic Bucks possession made it a one-point game.
Intentional fouls are surely upcoming by the Bucks, so the Celtics may win or lose this from the foul line.
Fourth quarter, 1:54, Celtics 87-82: Rivers had been looking for 48 minutes of good basketball, and the Celtics did not give him that in this game. What they may have given him was a total team effort in the fourth quarter, with Garnett and Bass chipping in after Green and Pierce’s heroics. The Bucks would not stop challenging, however.
Fourth quarter, 2:39, Celtics 83-82: Where Green left off, Pierce picked up. And on the other side, Ellis answered.
Pierce and Ellis exchanged baskets five times, with the lead changing hands each time, before Garnett ended the streak with a baseline jumper to push the Celtics ahead by one. The Pierce-Ellis sequence went like this:
5:05 — Ellis layup, plus the foul, hits the free throw. 77-76 Bucks
4:55 — Pierce jumper. 78-77 Celtics.
4:34 — Ellis jumper. 79-78 Bucks.
4:19 — Pierce jumper. 81-79 Celtics
3:55 — Ellis 3-pointer. 82-81 Bucks.
Fourth quarter, 6:11, Celtics 74-72: Hey, look! It’s Jeff Green!
Green, who teased Celtics fans with a strong preseason but went into a cocoon once the regular season commenced, finally showed some of his preseason flash in the fourth quarter. Green exploded for six points in the first six minutes of the quarter and glided to the hoop for a layup after a pump-fake to give the Celtics the lead.
The lineup of Rondo, Pierce, Bass, Green and Lee sought to disprove the theory that the Celtics are lost without Garnett.
Fourth quarter, 8:10, Bucks 68-66: The offense ground to a halt for the Celtics at the start of the fourth quarter, but the good news for them was that the Bucks offense stopped clicking, too.
Bass finally slipped between two defenders for a layup to notch the first points of the fourth quarter — at the 8:33 mark. Bass’ layup cut Milwaukee’s lead to two points and proved that scoring indeed was still allowed.
End of third quarter, Bucks lead 68-64: Marquis Daniels was never able to make a huge mark in Boston. First it was his scary back injury, then it was nagging injuries and tentativeness that kept him stuck to the Celtics’ bench.
All health ailments and possible confidence issues appeared to be gone now. Daniels had eight points, including six in the third quarter alone, entering the final 12 minutes. He also helped slow down Pierce, who looked like he might go off for 15 or more points in the quarter, and held the Celtics forward to 11 points after a hot start to the second half.
Third quarter, 2:10, Bucks 62-61: Ladies and gentlemen, Pierce and Terry finally arrived.
It took more than two quarters, but the two would-be closers for the Celtics made their mark in the third quarter. Each had six points at halftime, but with two minutes left in the third quarter they had combined for 16 points in the frame alone.
Green even showed some spunk by drawing a foul on a reverse layup attempt, but the Bucks started to have some success getting to the foul line. The stripe was the Celtics’ lone advantage in the first half, and if they do not get the same advantage the rest of the way, they need to identify new ones. Pierce and Terry’s emergence could not have come too soon.
Third quarter, 8:50, Celtics 47-44: Rondo appeared to be OK, at least for now, and made a quick return to the game. Meanwhile, Pierce and Terry showed a bit of aggression and Terry drained a 3-pointer to give the Celtics their first lead since early in the first quarter.
Third quarter, 11:13, Bucks 42-41: Another one of those knee-on-knee collisions may have felled a big name. Steve Nash and LeBron James have already been sidelined with various degrees of severity after banging knees with opponents, and Rondo went to the floor in a hurry after he banged knees with Dalembert, who was setting a screen. The Celtics needed to take a timeout to get Rondo off the floor.
Halftime, Bucks lead 42-39: Despite some stronger effort than in recent games, the Celtics were pretty bad in the first half. They shot 35 percent from the field, had only eight assists and committed 10 turnovers. Garnett had 10 points, but nobody else in green was really close to double-digits.
Somehow, though, the Celtics only trailed by three points. A major reason was their ability to get to the foul line, where they were 14-for-16 to the Bucks’ 5-for-7. They also held their own on the glass, where the rebounding battle was an even 21-21.
But the Bucks may have been sleeping giants. They were 1-for-10 from beyond the arc and Jennings did not crack the scoring column until 3:46 remained in the first half. He will heat up while Ellis, who had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting, did not look ready to slow down.
Second quarter, 3:28, Bucks 38-30: It would be one thing if the Celtics’ chemistry issues were only a result of their new faces, as it has been claimed. But some mistakes are not forgivable that way. Rondo drove along the baseline, committed the cardinal sin of jumping without knowing what he wanted to do with the ball and tossed a pass to nobody as Pierce faded to the wing.
Rondo and Pierce have played together for too long to make such mistakes.
Second quarter, 5:56, Bucks 30-24: Is it halftime yet? Because we need a break from some awful basketball.
After committing only six turnovers combined in the first quarter, the teams combined for eight turnovers in the first six minutes of the second quarter. The carelessness with the ball, coupled with some more inconsistent shooting (they were 22-for-59 from the field) made for a first half that was tough to watch.
Second quarter, 8:30, Bucks 28-22: Not to keep picking on Jeff Green or anything, but the dude has not played well since the regular season began. He just looks lost at times, and that did not change against the Bucks.
Marquis Daniels, who could not escape the Boston bench last season, clamped down defensively on Green in the second quarter. Green missed both shots he took and turned the ball over three times, a startling stat considering he had played fewer than eight minutes.
End of first quarter, Bucks lead 22-20: Bucks coach Scott Skiles resisted teaming Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders together in the past, since both are known as strong defenders but incomplete offensive players. Skiles has changed his thinking this season, though, figuring that two defensive menaces together on the court — think last year’s Avery Bradley-Rajon Rondo combination, only with much greater length — can cause issues for the opponent. Any offensive contributions from Udoh or Sanders are just a bonus.
Well, the Bucks got that bonus in the first quarter. Udoh dropped in a floater and Sanders finished a pick and roll (what else?) late in the first quarter to help Milwaukee takes its lead. The Celtics did not look sharp at either end, and their shooting woes continued as they shot 37 percent from the field.
First quarter, 4:48, game tied 15-15: Possibly because they are affected by all the dairy in Wisconsin, the Celtics played a swiss-cheese defense in the early going. All seven of the Bucks’ baskets game from point-blank range and many of them came out of the pick and roll, where they totally exposed the C’s defense. Pick-and-roll defense typically is one of Boston’s strengths, especially with Garnett on the floor, but it looked more like a sieve in the first seven minutes.
Garnett made his usual impact, not only scoring Boston’s first field goal (almost four minutes in the game) but scoring six of their first seven points. Terry hit his first three shots to help the Celtics tie, but nobody had an easier start offensively than Dalembert, who dunked his way to nine points in the first seven minutes.
8:10 p.m.: Brandon Jennings will be a part of the night’s proceedings despite getting ejected from the Bucks’ previous game against the Wizards on Friday. With 23.7 seconds left in the eventual 101-91 Bucks win, Wizards rookie Bradley Beal fouled Monta Ellis, sending the Milwaukee shooting guard sprawling the floor.
As Beal extended a hand to help up Ellis, Jennings barreled in and made a situation out of nothing. Jennings laid a shoulder into Beal, and a brief skirmish led to Jennings getting kicked out. Beal was given a flagrant-two foul, which was a gross overreaction.
In the aftermath, Jennings and Ellis sounded pretty clueless.
“He fouled me hard and my teammate reacted,” Ellis said, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “To be honest, they never showed the replay. But when somebody is up that high, if you can’t block the shot, I don’t think that you should try to make a basketball play at the end of the game like that?”
Ellis does not think Beal should try to make a basketball play? Huh? Ellis seems to have an exaggerated sense of his own hops, too. He was not “up that high.” He was high relative to some schlub at the YMCA, maybe. But for an NBA player Ellis’ rise was nothing out of the ordinary on that play. Beal was just as high and may indeed have blocked the shot.
“Freak accidents happen,” Jennings said. “I was just trying to protect my teammate. I didn’t think I was going to get kicked out for it. The way he fell, I didn’t know if he was hurt or anything like that. My mind was just to run over there toward him and move everybody else out of the way.”
Nice try. The video clearly shows contact with excessive physical intent, not just trying to move everybody else out of the way. But whatever works. Jennings did not earn a suspension, nor should he have for a play that warranted an ejection but not an elongated punishment. Anyway, Ellis and Jennings will probably combine for at least 40 points against the Celtics if Boston defends like it has in the rest of its games so far.
7:58 p.m.: Which players start may not mean much, but the Celtics sure have shuffled around their starting personnel this season regardless.
Jason Terry was slated to get the start at shooting guard against the Bucks, making the 35-year-old shooting guard the seventh player to get the starting nod in six games for Boston. Brandon Bass, who started the first two games before coming off the bench for the last three, is back with the first unit.
The Celtics are grasping for a combination of players that can perform both offensively and defensively. So far when one end is clicking, the other is hapless. It will be interesting to see how Lee, who started all five games thus far, performs as a reserve. The fifth-year veteran’s minutes, shots and points per game are all down, and after scoring six points in the first quarter on Friday, Lee attempted only one shot the rest of the game.
The projected starters appear below.
8 a.m. ET: The last time the Celtics met the Bucks, there were doubts as to how effective Brandon Jennings could be in the backcourt with Monta Ellis. A little more than a week later, those doubts are momentarily extinguished.
Jennings played almost peerless basketball in the Bucks’ first three games, averaging 16.3 points, 9.5 assists and 3.8 steals while leading Milwaukee to a 3-1 record. He garnered the first NBA Player of the Week award of the season for the Eastern Conference and had some folks wondering if he really will be worth a big contract at the end of this season, when he becomes a restricted free agent.
While the Bucks are rising, the Celtics (2-3) are sinking at worst, treading water at best. The Celtics lost their chance at a three-game winning streak when they fell to the Sixers on Friday, and they have not looked strong defensively in any of their games so far. Amid a stretch in which they play eight games in 12 days, the Celtics will not have much time to practice, which means they will need to figure out their problems during games.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8:30 p.m. ET.
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