Bucks rally to kick Celtics, 91-88

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Bucks rally to kick Celtics, 91-88

MILWAUKEE A fast start, a forgettable finish.

Boston (9-8) led by as many as 17 points in the first half, only to see that early dominance go to waste as the Milwaukee Bucks rallied for a 91-88 win.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Jennings with 24 seconds to play put the Bucks ahead 90-88, and a free throw by Larry Sanders proved to be the game's final point of the night. Jennings had 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting.

Boston had multiple chances to force overtime, but both Paul Pierce and Jason Terry's 3-point attempts hit the back of the rim before rolling out. They finished with 19 and 15 points, respectively. Terry also had a game-high 11 assists.

Seconds into the fourth quarter, the Bucks got back-to-back baskets from Luc Mbah a Moute, who was seeing his first action of the season, that gave Milwaukee a four-point lead which was their largest of the game at that point.

The first couple of minutes had the C's looking like a team on the verge of unraveling while Milwaukee's confidence only grew as their lead increased.

Milwaukee led by as many as six in the fourth, but the Celtics roared back and cut the Bucks lead to just a single point on a dunk by Kevin Garnett.

A Bucks turnover put the ball back in the C's hands.

That's all Paul Pierce needed as he canned a short jumper that put the Celtics back on top.

From there, the two teams treated the lead like a ping-pong ball with neither team gaining any type of significant leverage or control.

The game's ending didn't seem likely considering how Boston controlled the first five or six minutes.

The Celtics looked very much in the mood for another blowout win as they opened the game with a 17-2 run.

But then Kevin Garnett took a break, and from there we saw once again a breakdown in the Celtics defense.

Knowing how the C's go into their offensive funks most nights when Garnett leaves the floor, there was sense that the game was shifting away from Boston's defense fueling their offense.

Milwaukee continued to chip away at the Celtics lead with an improved effort on the boards which led to second-chance opportunities, and of course a slew of timely shots from their backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings who had nine and 10 points, respectively, at the half.

The Bucks also got a huge lift from Ersan Ilyasova who hasn't been nearly as effective this season as he was a year ago.

Making an impact was not an issue on Saturday with him scoring 11 first-half points to lead all Bucks scorers. He finished with 17 points.

Boston was getting a nice boost from its bench as Jeff Green had 11 points for the Celtics, a similarly strong first-half performance akin to what he did when he tallied a season-high 19 points against Portland on Friday night. He had another solid night offensively for the Celtics, finishing with 18 points.

Even with all those contributions, many of which came in the first half, all the Celtics had to show for it was a measly 48-47 halftime lead after having led by as many as 17 points.

Milwaukee eventually took the lead, 51-50, on a lay-up by Ellis with 10:29 to play in the third.

But Boston regained the lead moments later as they tried to fend off a slew of mini-runs by the Bucks which enabled to go into the fourth tied at 69.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.