BOSTON The Boston Celtics were able to withstand a late surge by the Milwaukee Bucks to hold on for a 102-96 win. It's Boston's second straight win, with each coming down to the Celtics making just enough plays at both ends of the floor, to get the win.
While the game certainly proved to be closer than the C's would have liked, a win is still a win for a team that's trying to stockpile as many victories as possible with the goal being to improve their playoff seeding.
The Celtics' bench play continues to provide a lift that in the last two games, allowed them to have a shot at winning. Chris Wilcox grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds. Keyon Dooling had arguably his best game with the C's, scoring eight points off the bench.
Boston also got contributions off the bench from Mickael Pietrus (four points, two rebounds) and Avery Bradley (two points, three assists).
We identified a number of factors coming into the game that might contribute to it outcome. Let's see how we did.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) not expected to play, the Bucks will be tough to keep off the boards. Their frontline starters include a pair of 6-10 big men in Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova. Like Boston, they too have had their share of injuries. And like the Celtics, they too have had problems rebounding the ball this season. Boston comes into tonight's game ranked dead-last in rebounds (46.6) per game, while the Bucks aren't that much better, grabbing 50.1 per game which ranks No. 22 in the league.
WHAT WE SAW: Rebounding has been a point of emphasis with all of Boston's players, but especially the team's big men. To their credit, the C's had some early trouble on the boards but seemed to only get stronger as the game progressed. The Celtics finished Wednesday's game plus-three on the boards. In addition, it was Boston making the most of their second-chance scoring opportunities as they outscored Milwaukee, 21-17, in second-chance points.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs Ersan Ilyasova or Drew Gooden. Defensively, Garnett will likely start off defending Ilyasova. But when the Celtics have the ball and Garnett is looking to score in the post, don't be surprised to see Gooden matched up with Garnett. How Garnett handles the cross matchup will go far in determining how well the Celtics play tonight.
WHAT WE SAW: Garnett was defended by both Ilyasova and Gooden at different times on Wednesday, showcasing the kind of game that has made him one of the greatest of all time. He finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds for his ninth double-double this season. As for the Bucks, both Ilyasova and Gooden played well on Wednesday in finishing with 25 and 23 points, respectively.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo went into the all-star break struggling, and he didn't look any better in his return on Tuesday. In his last two games, Rondo has missed 11 of his 12 shot attempts. Against Cleveland on Tuesday, he had 11 assists but was scoreless. Rondo became just the fourth Celtic (C's president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was one of the others) to have a double-digit assists game without scoring a single point. The C's have proven they can win without Rondo scoring, but the poor shooting and high turnovers -- he's had at least five turnovers in six of the 10 games he's played in this month -- is a disturbing trend for both him and the Celtics as they try to get on track and improve their playoff position.
WHAT WE SAW: What a way to bounce back. After going scoreless on Tuesday, Rajon Rondo bounces back with a 15-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist night for his third triple-double of the season.
"Rondo did a good job of pushing the ball, knowing when to get us in our sets, giving it to the hot guys, whether it be Kevin, Rondo," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "On both ends of the court Rondo played tremendous."
STAT TO TRACK: Well we can say this for Milwaukee. Whatever they're not doing offensively, it has nothing to do with getting up shots. In fact, they take 84.9 shots per game, which is more than any team in the NBA this season. Their problem is they can't make shots, evident by them shooting 42.5 percent from the field which ranks 25th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics are literally at the other end of the spectrum, taking a league-low 75 shots per game but shooting 45.4 percent which ranks 7th in the NBA. The C's can live with the Bucks getting up a lot of shots -- most teams have all season. But it's their field goal percentage that Boston must not allow to veer too far away from their season average.
WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics allowed the Bucks to get up a ton of shots -- OK, 96 to be exact. That's the most field goal attempts Boston has given up this season, a mark of distinction previously held by the Indiana Pacers (94 field goal attempts on Jan. 14). However, Boston had the kind of second half defensively against Milwaukee that most teams have had against the Bucks this season. For the game, Milwaukee shot 40.6 percent from the field, but was held to just 34 percent in the second half. In addition to clamping down defensively in the second half, Boston also got a lift in terms of shot attempts by taking 87 which is 12 more than they average this season.