Celtics’ defense gets best of Bucks
MILWAUKEE — Just when the Celtics seemed like a lost cause, primed for playoff elimination following a pathetic performance against the Washington Wizards, they bounce back with life and spunk in a hostile environment against a potential first-round playoff opponent.
This has been the story of the 2009-10 Boston Celtics, a team that can’t seem to figure itself out from night to night. Paul Pierce put on a mid-range shooting clinic in the second half and Rajon Rondo outplayed counterpart Brandon Jennings as the Celtics pulled away for a 105-90 win over the Milwaukee Bucks — without Kevin Garnett.
Doc Rivers gave the veteran the night off after his 3-for-12 performance Friday against the Wizards. The Garnett-less Celtics put on a gritty defensive effort — Milwaukee shot 39.7 percent from the field — and got some important contributions from the bench to reach 50 wins for the third straight season.
Glen Davis scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the reserves. Rasheed Wallace, who started in place of Garnett, also added 12 points and seven boards.
Rondo finished with 15 points and led a third-quarter charge as Boston won the first of two meetings with the Bucks in five days. If the season ended today, the teams would face off in the first round. If they do, it could be a heated series as each team picked up technicals in the fourth quarter.
“We set the tone defensively and that is most important,’’ Pierce said. “We prefer to keep the game in the half court and let our defense do the talking and try to grind it out because we feel like we can win those type of games.’’
Kurt Thomas, the 15-year veteran who has been starting in place of injured center Andrew Bogut, was assessed a flagrant-1 for throwing down Davis as he attempted a layup and Davis received a technical for getting in Thomas’s face. Moments later, veterans Jerry Stackhouse and Pierce each received technicals for wrestling on the floor after they collided on an inbounds play with 2:22 left. Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles was ejected for arguing the foul called on Stackhouse and Ray Allen’s free throws gave the Celtics a commanding 92-82 lead.
“With about four minutes to go in the second quarter, they started getting really physical with us,’’ Skiles said. “And we didn’t respond really well to that. Just because there might be some technicals and I get tossed out of a game doesn’t necessarily mean there was a lot of intensity. Having said that, there was [intensity] in pockets of the game, for sure.’’
Pierce heated up in the third quarter. He scored 8 of Boston’s final 10 points of the period as the Celtics led, 68-65. The first 10 minutes of the quarter were highlighted by a duel between Rondo and Jennings.
Rondo scored 9 points in the period, using an array of acrobatic and trick drives to the basket against a stunned Jennings, who usually doesn’t face guards with Rondo’s craftiness. Rondo won this contest handily, dishing out 10 assists to Jennings’s one.
Besides four first-half 3-pointers, Jennings did not have the impact he made in the last meeting, an 86-84 win March 9 at the Bradley Center. The Bucks were relegated to one-on-one play most of the night, and it almost worked until a mid-fourth-quarter Celtics flurry that increased the lead to 82-72.
“It became an [isolation] game,’’ Rivers said. “It was more the game changed with the small lineups, more than anything we did. It was more of a one-dribble attack game.’’
Wallace led Boston with 10 points and seven rebounds at halftime. He picked up his second foul with 3:02 left in the half but stayed clean the rest of the way, despite his irritation with officials.
“He was terrific,’’ Rivers said. “Even when they went small we left him in for a while and he played well even in that stretch. So [that’s] good.’’
The absence of Bogut was a relief to the Celtics since he averaged 25 points and nearly 16 rebounds in the previous two meetings. The Celtics capitalized by consistently attacking the rim, resulting in a whopping 15 first-half free throws.