Celtics knock off Bucks
MILWAUKEE - A shortage of centers might cause problems for the Celtics against some teams. But they have been able to establish themselves defensively this week against two Eastern Conference opponents that will likely be factors in playoff seedings.
The Celtics took a 100-91 win over Milwaukee Thursday night, holding the Bucks to 33 second-half points and snapping their six-game winning streak, during which the Bucks averaged 112 points per game.
The Celtics, who beat Atlanta, 77-73, Monday, improved to 4-3 during an eight-game, 13-day, four time-zone road trip that concludes Friday in Philadelphia.
“These last two wins have been big,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
“We felt we would have enough rest in this game – we took two days off. The [Atlanta] game we were really worried about, because all the time zones. Now, we’ve got to change time zones again and play a team that’s waiting for us.
“It’s been a good trip [but] it’s not over for us. That’s the way we look at it.’’
Paul Pierce scored 25 points, setting the tone as the Celtics took a 35-29 first-quarter lead, then finding the range at key points in the second half. Kevin Garnett (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Greg Stiemsma split the center duties. Stiemsma, from Randolph, Wis., had 6 points, 5 blocks, 4 steals, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, surviving the final quarter with five fouls.
The Celtics pulled away with a 16-4 run over a 4:34 span of the final quarter, thanks to the production of the second unit.
Stiemsma started the rally with a lefthander for a 76-73 edge 1:31 into the quarter. Keyon Dooling then found Mickael Pietrus on a back-door cut, and converted a layup after Beno Udrih forced an air ball at the shot clock buzzer. Pietrus scored on a drive and Pierce hit a transition jumper after two Drew Gooden free throws. Luc Mbah a Moute got a follow-up, but that was the only Bucks’ field goal over a 5:41 span. Pierce scored again, Avery Bradley hit two foul shots, and Dooling sank a jumper to make it 90-77 with 5:55 remaining.
The Celtics scrapped their strict man-to-man defensive tactics in the second half as the Bucks went 12 for 41 (0 for 9 on 3-pointers).
“We switched, which we never do,’’ Rivers said. “They were killing us in the first half, Scotty [Skiles] was running great stuff. The way we looked at - switching, it couldn’t have been any worse than what we normally do. It was a big change. That’s unusual for us, to give in that quick. But I thought we needed to do it and it made a big difference, defensively.’’
The Bucks missed their first seven shots of the half and struggled to recover. The Celtics outscored the Bucks, 18-13, in the third quarter.
“The first six minutes [of the third quarter] set the game back years,’’ Rivers said. “I mean, both teams. It was amazing. I thought both teams had good shots, we were hitting the rim, falling out of bounds.
“I think what happened, both teams were playing at such a great speed in the first half, we came out and we were both going so fast the game got out of control.
“We’re trying to stay ahead of them and catch people who are ahead of us. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to go like this the rest of the way.
“Milwaukee’s a good team. Their guard play and their shooting, they’re hard to guard, I’m telling you. And for us to do that in the second half is nice.’’
The Celtics’ Rajon Rondo (10 points, 14 assists) outplayed Brandon Jennings (19 points) for significant stretches.
Skiles said “the biggest key of the game for us was could we contain Rondo? And we didn’t.’’
Said Pierce, “We just came out with a lot of energy, executed from the first play on, defended, rebounded the ball. When we do that we’re tough to beat. Rondo controlled the pace, and we made that extra pass.
“We turned it over a little more than I’d like, we got out and made some layups, and everybody contributed. Now we have to finish off the trip. This is a mentallystrong group.
“We understand it’s a been a long trip. This is a group that wants to get the next win to make it a great trip.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.