Celtics - Bucks preview: Third time's the charm?

Celtics - Bucks preview: Third time's the charm?
December 3, 2013, 9:30 am
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BOSTON — The Milwaukee Bucks (3-13) are one of the worst teams in the NBA this season; that is, unless they're playing the Boston Celtics.

Twice these two have met this season and in both games the Celtics came away losers.

"They break our rhythm really well; sad but true," said Boston's Jared Sullinger.

In the Celtics' home opener on Nov. 1, the Bucks rallied from a 22-point deficit to beat Boston and when the two met on Saturday, the Celtics opened with a commanding first quarter lead only for it to become all-Milwaukee for the next three quarters.

"We get a couple of guys rolling and all of a sudden, they throw a 2-3 (zone) at us," Sullinger said. "And they throw a couple of junk defenses at us."

And while the outcome was the same in both games, the factors leading to each defeat varied.

In the first loss, Milwaukee's bench outscored Boston's backups 29-4 ... in the fourth quarter.

Not the game, but the fourth quarter!

And the points came from five different players, led by Zaza Pachulia's 10 fourth-quarter points.

Saturday's loss had more to do with Boston's inability to slow down Milwaukee's backcourt of Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo who had 20 and 22 points, respectively.

Regardless of how the losses came about, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens knows his team has to improve regardless of who they play.

"In this league, every night you're either good or not," Stevens said. "We need to just keep getting better."

Here are some keys to keep an eye on heading into tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston established low-post supremacy in the first quarter of their loss to Milwaukee on Saturday, only to go away from it for most of the rest of the game. Don't expect them to make that same mistake again. Jared Sullinger (21 points, 14 rebounds) should get lots of touches on the block while Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and the rest of Boston's perimeter players will look to score more off the dribble than they did on Saturday.

MATCHUP TO WATCH:  Avery Bradley vs. O.J. Mayo: Things got a little chirpy between these two on Saturday and for good reason. Mayo (22 points, 9-for-14 shooting) was having the best of Bradley and wasn't shy about letting him know it. Look for Bradley to bounce back with a strong defensive effort.

PLAYER TO WATCH:  Boston's Courtney Lee returns after missing two games with a left knee injury. Prior to the injury, he was providing a nice lift off the Celtics bench with his shooting. It'll be worth seeing if he can pick up where he left off.

STAT TO TRACK: Both teams rank in the bottom half of the NBA in fast break points with Boston (11.3) and Milwaukee (10.8) coming in at No. 19 and No. 22, respectively. However, the Bucks' success on Saturday was in part based on winning this phase of the game by a decisive 16-4 margin. Better transition defense an absolute must for the Celtics to be successful.