Celtics-Bucks preview: Keep the defense going

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Celtics-Bucks preview: Keep the defense going

MILWAUKEE The Boston Celtics are just hours removed from their best defensive showing of the season in easily defeating Portland, 96-78 on Friday night.

The C's did it with a suffocating defense, lots of turnovers forced (23) and a solid job on the boards.

Another strong performance by the Celtics defense might be on the horizon tonight against a Milwaukee team that is in a bit of a funk lately.

After emerging as one of the Eastern Conference's feel-good stories the first couple weeks of the season, they have come upon hard times lately.

The Bucks have been a decent offensive team this season with a 97.4 points scored per game average that ranks 15th in the NBA.

That total has dipped to 92.7 points over the course of their last six games, five of which have ended in defeat.

Meanwhile, the Celtics defense is trending towards being the Celtics defense of the past.

Despite giving up 98.4 points per game which ranks 18th in the NBA, the Celtics have given up an average of 95.8 points in their last four games - three of which have ended with victories.

It is yet another sign that despite a slower-than-expected start, the Celtics are slowly but surely coming around to playing the kind of basketball that both the players and fans expect.

"Weve got to get our culture right in that way," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "And weve got a long way to go, but were getting better. You can see it, for sure.

They'll look to continue their strong play defensively tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks. Here are some other keys to tonight's game to keep an eye on as the Celtics look to take a 2-1 series lead in their head-to-head series with the Bucks.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Because of the blowout nature of Friday's win, the C's are in position to play their core players - Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, specifically - extended minutes tonight if necessary.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Courtney LeeJason Terry vs Monta EllisBrandon Jennings: The Celtics backcourt of Lee and Terry will spend time alternating defensively against one of the most high-powered backcourts in the NBA. Holding their own against Ellis and Jennings will be critical to the C's hopes of winning.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jeff Green is coming off a season-high 19 points, delivering the kind of high impact performance that the Celtics have been longing for all season. What's next? Doing it again.

STAT TO TRACK: The magic number for the Boston Celtics is 95; as in 95 points allowed. This season, the C's are 7-1 when they hold opponents to 95 points or less. That'll be important against the Bucks who are 6-2 this season when scoring 95 or more points.

Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

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Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wishing everybody a safe and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. 

*Apparently Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette has yet to try Nashville’s hot chicken despite his time behind the Preds bench. It’s okay, I have yet to try it either in my handful of visits to Music City. 

*Good stuff from PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough. Apparently it wasn’t so easy to make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed when it came time for director Doug Liman to cut Swingers together

*Sidney Crosby cares about the history and the issues of the game, and has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation despite the hate that always comes with such responsibility. 

*Puck Daddy examines Crosby’s performance in the playoffs, and the odds of him winning another Conn Smythe Trophy. 

*The Penguins have made it to the Stanley Cup Final without Kris Letang for their playoff run, and that’s an amazing accomplishment. 

*Erik Karlsson said that he will be tending to his injured foot next week, and expects a full recovery for next season after a brilliant run with his Ottawa Senators

*Larry Brooks again rails against the Stanley Cup playoff structure and it’s relation to an “absurd regular season.” Say what you will, but the fact the Penguins are there for a second straight season shoots down some of the absurdity stuff in my mind. The best team from the East is where they should be and they did it without Kris Letang to boot. 

*Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alex Debrincat is confident his abilities will translate to the NHL despite his size after taking home honors as the best player in junior hockey this season. 

*For something completely different: Apparently there’s a hard core comic book geek gripe that “The Flash” is burning through bad guys too quickly. This would make sense if they couldn’t revisit these bad guys at any point, but they absolutely can go back to a big bad like Grodd anytime they want. 

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

It was the longest run that the P-Bruins have had in a few years and another unmistakable sign that the future is brightening for the Black and Gold, but the Bruins AHL affiliate has ended their playoff push in the Calder Cup semi-finals. 

The Providence Bruins fell by a 3-1 score to the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday night to lose to the Crunch in five games when the best-of-seven series was set to return to Providence this coming week. The P-Bruins had vanquished the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs before finally exiting against Syracuse. 

Though it’s over, it’s clear some of the Bruins prospects made a nice step forward over the second half of the AHL season and then into the Calder Cup playoffs. With the Calder Cup Finals yet to start, B’s forward prospect Danton Heinen stands as the second-leading playoff scorer in the entire AHL with nine goals and 18 points in 17 playoff games after really struggling in the first half of his first pro season while bouncing back and forth between the NHL and the AHL. 

This could bode well for the skilled Heinen and his hopes to make the leap to the NHL in the near future after a stellar collegiate career at the University of Denver. AHL journeymen-types Wayne Simpson and Jordan Szwarz were the next two top scorers for the P-Bruins in the playoff run, but Jake DeBrusk had a strong playoff season as well while popping in six goals in 17 games. DeBrusk led all Providence players with his 54 shots on net in the 17-game playoff run for Providence, and he headlined a group that included B’s prospects Ryan Fitzgerald, Zach Senyshyn, Matt Grzelcyk, Peter Cehlarik (who succumbed to shoulder surgery during the playoffs), Emil Johansson and Robbie O’Gara all getting some vital playoff experience. 

Both Heinen and DeBrusk will be strong candidates for jobs on the wing with the Boston big club when training camp opens in the fall after strong showings in the postseason. 

On the goaltending side, Zane McIntyre was solid for the P-Bruins at times while in 16 of their 17 playoff games with a .906 save percentage. But it was Malcolm Subban that was playing at the very end of the playoff run for Providence and featured a sterling .937 save percentage in the four AHL playoff games that he appeared in this spring after an up-and-down regular season. McIntyre had an .857 save percentage and 4.37 goals against average in the final series against Syracuse, and looked a little spent like many of the other P-Bruins players once they’d unexpectedly made it to the third round of the AHL postseason.  

The only unfortunate part of Providence’s run is that newly signed youngsters Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson couldn’t be a part of it after signing and then appearing in NHL games following a cut-off date for AHL playoff rosters. Both missed on an experience that could have been very conducive for their professional development, and uncovered a wrinkle in the NHL/AHL transaction process that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a developmental league.