Celtics-Bucks review: More missed opportunities for C's

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Celtics-Bucks review: More missed opportunities for C's

BOSTON The Boston Celtics had spurts of good play, but not enough to win on Friday against Milwaukee.

Sounds familiar?

It should.

That has been the essence of what this season has been like for the Celtics as they lost yet another winnable game, 99-94, in overtime.

Even though Boston spent the bulk of the first half with a lead, Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't feel good about his team clinging to a three-point lead at the half.

"I was concerned because I thought we should've been up 15 points," Rivers said.

It was more of the same in the second half as the Celtics continued to miss one good-looking jumper after another.

"It was a frustrating game," Rivers said.

For fans, the coaches but especially the players.

"One thing we can control, I think, is our intensity on the defensive end; we are inconsistent," said Paul Pierce. "We can't give up 17-0 runs to Cleveland. We can't give up 10-0 runs to Milwaukee. And then decide that's when we want to play defense."

Indeed, inconsistent play was among the factors that snapped the Celtics' five-game home winning streak on Friday. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game, and how they played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Paul Pierce carried the C's to a season-high 40 points on Wednesday. No one should expect another night like that from the Captain, but he really does have to deliver 20 or so points consistently for this team to win.

WHAT WE SAW: Pierce continues to be the one player who is doing more than just talking about playing better - he's actually doing it. The Captain could not have given the C's more than he did on Friday, tallying a game-high 35 points along with 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals. Rivers had no choice but to go to Pierce often."When everybody's not making shots you're down, you're looking for whoever is making shots," Rivers said. "And I thought Paul had to work way too hard for his shots."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs Larry Sanders: Now that Garnett is back to playing the power forward spot full-time, we'll see if that helps him do a better job on Sanders who has emerged as one of the league's most improved players this season. This season, Sanders is averaging 12.7 points and 11.7 rebounds against the Celtics.

WHAT WE SAW: This matchup was clearly won by Sanders who finished with 17 points, 20 rebounds, three assists and a pair of blocked shots. Among his most important plays was blocking a Paul Pierce 3-point shot that would have tied the game in overtime, and hustling down court to finish off the play with an uncontested dunk. "He's definitely growing as a player," said Bucks coach Scott Skiles. "There's no doubt about that."

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jeff Green has been in a bit of an offensive lull lately, but the Bucks just might be what he needs to snap out of it. Some of Green's best play this season has come against Milwaukee, a team that he averages 13.7 points per game against this season while shooting 57.1 percent from the field.

WHAT WE SAW: True to form, Green had a much better showing against the Bucks then he had in some of the C's more recent games. He came off the bench to score 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting before leaving the game in the fourth quarter after suffering a bruised left cheek injury and some chipped teeth when he was hit with an elbow from Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova.

STAT TO TRACK: A solid night defensively by the Celtics should lead to plenty of fast-break opportunities against a Milwaukee team that has had issues with their transition defense. The Bucks give up 16.3 points on fast breaks per game this season which ranks last in the NBA. That should help the C's improve upon their 13.5 fast break points per game average which ranks 16th in the league.

WHAT WE SAW: The C's had a good pace as far as equalling or surpassing the fast-break points allowed by the Bucks. At the half, Boston had eight fast-break points and finished with 14 for the night.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.