Celtics-Bucks preview: Keep your eye on . . .

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Celtics-Bucks preview: Keep your eye on . . .

MILWAUKEE It goes without saying that the Boston Celtics are at their best in games in which points are hard to come by. This season, the C's are 11-1 when their opponent scores 85 points or less. Keeping the Milwaukee Bucks from putting up big scoring numbers hasn't been easy for any team this season. It's actually become even tougher with the addition of Monta Ellis who has been among the NBA's top scorers the past couple seasons.

Even before Ellis arrived via trade last week, the Bucks were among the NBA's top 10 scoring squads.

They currently rank 7th with a 98 points per game average.

That figure has been on the rise during their six-game winning streak that includes them averaging 113.3 points per game.

And their success is by no means a one or two man operation.

"It's a collective group," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "I mean obviously, Brandon Jennings and Drew Gooden have been phenomenal. But (Ersan) Ilyasova, all of them, they're just playing well and making shots. But they have shot-makers. It's not like they have bad shooters and now, they're shots are going in. They have good shooters, and everybody's getting those guys shots."

Limiting the effectiveness of those shooters will be among the many challenges the C' face tonight. Here we'll take a look at other keys to the game as the Celtics look to put a little more distance between themselves and the streaking Milwaukee Bucks.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - A big part of Milwaukee's run of late has been their ball movement. The most telling barometer for that is assists. And the Bucks have been racking them up in bunches lately. Milwaukee has had at least 30 assists in each of their last four games, something that hasn't happened in the NBA since Phoenix did in during the 2007-2008 season. And a five-game assist binge of 30 or more hasn't happened since Orlando did it during the 1994-1995 season. That ball distribution success will be put to the ultimate test by Boston, which allows a league-low 18.5 assists per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Drew Gooden: Like Garnett, Gooden is also a power forward playing center. And like Garnett, Gooden has the ability to score facing the basket although he doesn't have Garnett's range on his shot. This is going to be one of the few games that Garnett will play at the center position where he doesn't have a clear-cut advantage over his matchup. And when you throw in the fact that Gooden is playing the best basketball of his career (he was Eastern Conference Player of the Week earlier this month), it makes for what should be a great duel.

PLAYER TO WATCH - It has to be Paul Pierce, who has been in foul trouble each of the last two games for the Celtics. He didn't fare so well when the two teams met on Feb. 29, scoring just 10 points on 5-for-12 shooting. He'll be defended by Carlos Delfino, which is one of the few matchups that clearly favors Boston. Don't be surprised if the C's try to get the Captain going early and often.
STAT TO TRACK - If Boston emerges with a win, the turning point will most likely be the third quarter. This season, Boston averages 24.3 points per game in the third, the 10th-best scoring mark for that quarter, in the NBA. The Bucks' third-quarter scoring defense ranks 19th in the league, with opponents averaging 24.1 points scored. But complicating matters some for Milwaukee in the third is that they average just 23.2 points scored in the third which ranks No. 23 in the NBA in third quarter scoring which, as you might expect, is their worst scoring quarter.

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

When trying to figure out what the Patriots will ultimately do with Jimmy Garoppolo, forget about the speculation and instead focus on the little things the team does. 

Like how they are tending to Jacoby Brissett. 

After having thumb surgery on Oct. 7, Brissett was put on IR. But the team used its one "Get off of IR free card" on Brissett and he's been practicing with the team for the past couple of weeks while not taking up a roster spot. 

That alone isn't compelling evidence that he's the backup-in-waiting and Garoppolo's about to be packed up and shipped out, argued my compadre, Senator Phil Perry. The team had no other players on IR that they could use the designation on at the time. Why not use it on Brissett?

Prior to that, though, we've seen Brissett accompanying the team to away games including the cross-country junket to San Francisco. A reason? Since the Patriots played three straight at Gillette at the start of the season when Brissett was the direct backup to Garoppolo, he didn't get a good look at the road operation and the tempo of being the visiting team. How things work on flights, in meetings, at opposing stadiums and on the sidelines is worth getting a promising young players' eyes on. Also, getting his offensive teammates used to having him around is probably an even bigger benefit. It's not unprecedented to have IR players travel but its not conventional practice either. 

With so many quarterback-needy teams around the league, Garoppolo is perhaps the most attractive option out there. By the end of this year, he will have apprenticed three seasons behind the best quarterback of all-time in a sophisticated offense for a program that's as demanding as any in the league. In the 10 quarters he was able to play as a starter in place of Tom Brady, he was sensational.

He got hurt and that's not great. But any team making a deal for him that has concerns about his durability can take him for a spin for one season. Garoppolo is on the books for $825K in 2017 and then his contract is up. The team that dealt for him can franchise him if they need another season to think on it. 

I don't think the Patriots are itching to move Garoppolo. They know they are sitting comfortably with a stack of the most valuable commodity in the sport -- good quarterbacks (or at least one great one and two promising ones) - piled in front of them. They can let the game come to them. 

If it does, as former Patriots executive and Bill Belichick consigliere Mike Lombardi thinks it will, the Patriots can rest easy dealing Garoppolo knowing that they already did advance work getting Brissett up to speed.