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.

Quotes, notes and stars: Ziegler 'a Godsend' for Red Sox bullpen

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Quotes, notes and stars: Ziegler 'a Godsend' for Red Sox bullpen

BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 8-7 win over the Minnesota Twins:

 
QUOTES

“We’ve come off a couple of days where we’re a pitch away or a swing of the bat away from being in a spot where we’re possibly looking at four consecutive in this series. But to pressed as we were -- give them credit they didn’t give in. They kept coming back -- they mounted some threats late.” - John Farrell said on the Red Sox the third consecutive in which they’d blown the lead.

“He’s been a Godsend to be honest. It’s a comfortable inning. The ball’s on the ground . . . He’s very calm, he’s experienced it . . . His addition here has given us a huge boost in line with the injuries to Koji [Uehara] and Craig [Kimbrel]” -  Farrell said on having Ziegler as an option.

“I’ll be honest, I get nervous when I’m watching, sixth, seventh, eighth inning of the game. I’ve picked my fingernails down too low one night. It’s a lot easier for me when I’m on the mound.” - Ziegler on dealing with his adrenaline and excitement when entering a game.

“That’s baseball. I mean, over the course of 162 games those sort of things are going to happen and you just keep battling and doing your job.” - Rick Porcello said about things not going entirely his way, despite feeling good on the mound.

“Yes. Because he threw me a changeup first pitch in my first at-bat. Sometimes you guess right.” - Hanley Ramirez said on why he was expecting a changeup from Tommy Milone that he turned into a three-run home run in the third inning

“I even didn’t know -- to be honest – that he threw over. When I was halfway I think I didn’t see like the catcher get up to throw the ball or anything so I figured maybe he threw to first. Once I saw Dozier catch it [one] way, I tried to [go] the other way. ” - Xander Bogaerts on avoiding the tag when he stole second in the fifth.

 

NOTES

* Xander Bogaerts finished 3-for-4 and has had multiple hits in nine of his last 11 contests. He leads MLB with 17 three-hit games.

* The Red Sox have now homered in 15 straight games, slugging 28 in that span.

* Hanley Ramirez has five home runs in his last five games, eight in his last 23. Over those 23 games, Ramirez is batting .337 (28-for-83) with 18 runs, seven doubles and 21 RBI to go with the eight homers.

* Three of Travis Shaw’s last four hits have been for extra bases -- 10 of his last 14 -- with the most recent being his three-run homerun Sunday. Shaw has also homered in four the last five series.

* Rick Porcello has won seven straight decisions and now has ten wins at home -- remaining undefeated at Fenway Park.

 

STARS

1) Hanley Ramirez

Ramirez slugged his fifth home run in his last five games, knocking in three runs. Sunday's DH finished 2-for-4 and scored two runs in the game.

2) Juan Centeno

Minnesota’s catcher finished 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBI in the losing effort

3) Rick Porcello

Despite giving up five runs (four earned) in his 6.2 inning of work, Porcello did what he needed to do to keep Boston in the lead. Had it not been for some shaky fielding, Porcello’s numbers might have been a better representation of how he looked and felt.

Kimbrel's knee 'feels great,' pushing himself towards return

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Kimbrel's knee 'feels great,' pushing himself towards return

BOSTON -- Just before the All-Star break, it almost seemed like the Red Sox were bound to lose Craig Kimbrel for six weeks potentially with the knee damage.

However, prior to Saturday’s game, John Farrell sounded optimistic about Kimbrel return more towards the three-week timetable.

The closer has gotten back to what he was working on prior to his injury, including his breaking ball.

“I’m out there spinning the ball right now,” Kimbrel said. “My knee feels great, so I’m just working on getting back into my mechanics. Staying compact and before I hurt my knee I was working on a few things. Just getting back to focusing on [those things].”

Kimbrel also stated that his arm “feels great” which was originally a concern for the Red Sox Front Office when he was injured -- fearing the knee would somehow lead to arm problems later.

Although things seem to almost be moving too fast for Kimbrel, he feels like the process has taken too long.

“It may look like a pretty fast recovery but it feels like forever,” Kimbrel said. “I think the way some people may look at it, it might be a little fast, but I’m not doing anything that is uncomfortable. I’m pushing myself, but I’m not pushing myself to a point where it doesn’t feel good. Testing everything out, that’s kind of where it is.

“Went in there and we didn’t really fix anything. Just kind of cut some cartilage out and right now it’s [about] getting my muscles firing like they’re supposed to. That’s coming back pretty fast because we were able to keep the swelling down right after surgery, so I was able to get back into the weight room and get back to the range of motion pretty quick.”

The righty will throw his first bullpen since the surgery and his confident he’ll feel good on the mound.

In fact, he thinks he could’ve thrown off the mound Sunday, but still hasn’t tested one important responsibility of a pitcher.

“I think I could throw off the mound,” Kimbrel said. “I don’t know if I can run in from the bullpen yet. Tomorrow we’re going to get off the mound, throw a bullpen and then can start pushing off and running.

“Fielding my position and cutting -- things like that. The kind of things where if a guy bunts on me [or] if I’ve gotta cover first -- I’ve gotta be able to do things like that.”