Paul Pierce scored 25 and the Boston Celtics ran away from the Milwaukee Bucks in the fourth quarter to earn their second straight win 100-91. Rajon Rondo added another double-double with 10 points and 14 assists as did Kevin Garnett with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Meanwhile Milwaukee's new backcourt tandem of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis only managed 32 total points on a combined 12 of 32 shooting. The win moved Boston to within a half game of division leading Philadelphia. The Celtics play the 76ers tomorrow with a chance to take over the division lead.
Not a lot of defense was played in the first half. Boston lead 35-29 after one, but Milwaukee closed the second quarter strong to take a 58-56 lead into the break. It was a half where pretty much everything went in for both teams. The Bucks were penetrating with ease and seemingly getting whatever they wanted against the Celtics lackluster defense. However, the Celtics came out in the second half and clamped down on Milwaukee. The Bucks did not record their first points of the half until a Drew Gooden transition layup more than four minutes into the third quarter, and Boston held Milwaukee to 13 third quarter points. Unfortunately Boston only managed 18 points themselves so they weren't able to build the lead they would have liked to. However, the defense of the third quarter set Boston up to run away with the game in the fourth.
Waiting for Winning Time
This is the kind of game that fans got used to seeing out of the Celtics over the last few years. They were somewhat lethargic in the first half and trailed at the break. They used a great third quarter to reestablish control, but they still let an inferior team hang around for three and a half quarters. But when winning time arrived the Celtics pulled away. At about the midway point of the fourth quarter the Celtics turned a close game into a double digit lead. This group has this innate ability to know when to put their foot down. They just close out games better than other teams do. That was evident tonight.
Since the loss of Chris Wilcox, Greg Stiemsma has been the first Celtic off the bench replacing Kevin Garnett at about the five minute mark of each quarter. Stiemsma plays with Brandon Bass while KG rests up then comes back late in the frame. However, Doc Rivers tweaked his rotation tonight, playing Stiemsma with Garnett in the third. The two played excellent help defense, combining to block eight shots and alter who knows how many more. This also allowed Garnett to move back to power forward for a short time with Stiemsma occupying the center position. It may have only been a situational move, but it will be interesting to see if we will see more of the Stiemsma-Garnett front court in the future. It takes KG out of the five position for a little while and it looked awfully good.
Way too much of the Celtic's rebounding burden has fallen on KevinGarnett this year. It has often seemed that if Garnett doesn't get the rebound, the Celtics don't. However, for the second straight game the Celtics produced a team effort on the glass. Garnett grabbed his 10 boards, but Bass matched him with 10, Pierce added 9, and Ray Allen, Rondo, and Stiemsma each managed four. The Celtics lost the rebounding battle, but only by two, and that is a number Celtic fans can live with. If the Celtics can continue to produce team efforts on the glas with all five men rebounding, it will go a long way toward making up for their lack of size.
Oh Captain My Captain
Paul Pierce's jump shot has not been falling all year. I've been waiting for a game that he shot better than 50% and snapped out it, but instead the numbers have just kept getting worse. Last game's 4-14 performance may have been a low water mark, leading many to wonder if Pierce should just stop throwing up jumpers. However tonight Pierce came out firing, connecting on 10 of 15 shots for 25 points ,including three of three from beyond the arc. Pierce has struggled mightily to find his shot. If Boston's go to guy can rediscover his stroke the Celtics become a much more difficult team to handle.
What It Means
Another good win, but more importantly another sign that the Celtics are correcting some of the issues that have plagued them over the course of this season. Their rebounding has been miles better over the last two games than it has at any point this year. Additionally, with the exception of the loss to the Lakers, their late game execution has been vastly improved since the All-Star break. Boston is now 10-4 since the break and has climbed to within a half game of the division lead. The Celtics are starting to look more like the Celtics and less like the zombie squad of the first half.
The Celtics play the Philadelphia 76ers tomorrow at 8:00 pm at the Wells Fargo Center. For the second time Boston faces Philadelphia on the second night of a back to back with first place in the division on the line. A cruel quirk of the schedule in a cruel season. Hopefully Boston can summon up some energy reserves and retake control of the division that they have dominated for the last five years. They are running out of time. They may not get another chance like this one.
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