BOSTON It will be a week from today before the Boston Celtics return home for playoff Games 3 and 4 against the Atlanta Hawks. While much of the attention following Boston's 87-74 win over Milwaukee on Thursday centered around them beginning the playoffs on the road, winning at home will also be important.
The Celtics had their problems at home this season, but closed out the month of April with home victories in six of their seven games at the Garden.
Boston establishing a presence at home was indeed a major factor in beating the Bucks. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game, and how they actually played out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: At this point, the goal is to get the core guys a chance to break a sweat, do a little damage on the scoreboard, and start looking ahead to Sunday's Game 1 matchup against Atlanta. Rajon Rondo (back) is expected back in the lineup tonight. Don't look for him to play his usual near-40 minutes tonight. Garnett will likely see some, but not a lot, of playing time tonight. Ditto for Paul Pierce, who has maintained for days that he doesn't want to miss any games leading into the playoffs.
"Rest is important, obviously, but you want to have a good rhythm going into the playoffs, too," Pierce told CSNNE.com. "Right now, my body feels pretty good and I'm in a pretty good rhythm, so I don't want to do anything to disrupt that."
WHAT WE SAW: Rondo played just over 25 minutes and finished with 15 assists for his 24th straight game with 10 or more assists. "I don't know if he can get 15 assists in 25 minutes in in a playoff game," said Bucks coach Scott Skiles.
"There are going to be better defensive teams in the playoffs. He made it look pretty easy."
Garnett played just over 11 minutes and Pierce and a sore big toe injury limited Pierce to under seven minutes of action but he still managed to get 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Doc Rivers vs. Scott Skiles: They're not going to log a minute on the floor tonight -- although that would probably make for more interesting matchup than the actual game -- but the way they handle things tonight will be worth keeping tabs on. Rivers wants to give his main guys rest, but with home court within reach, he has to balance that need with giving his team the best shot at winning. As for Skiles, it's hard to get his guys motivated tonight with no chance at the playoffs and no way of helping or hurting your position for the NBA draft. This is one of those games where a fast start by Boston might be enough to put this game out of reach quickly.
WHAT WE SAW: Neither coach had much of an impact on this game, although it was clear that Rivers' players played with with the kind of attention to detail that you would like to see from guys who know that they're probably not going to play much for the rest of the season. The Bucks looked for long stretches, like a team that had nothing to gain or lose on Thursday. Having already been eliminated from the playoffs and unable to drop any further in the NBA standings -- which would have increased their chances of landing the No. 1 pick in June's NBA draft -- motivation certainly was a challenge for them.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Mickael Pietrus will return to the lineup after missing four games with swelling in his right knee. He is one of the biggest X-factors for Boston in the playoffs. His ability to stretch defenses while making life difficult as possible for opponents with his defense, will be huge for the Celtics in the postseason. Like most of the Celtics core guys, don't look for him to log too many minutes with the playoffs right around the corner.
WHAT WE SAW: After missing the last four games, he made his first three shots from the field and finished with nine points.
"I was moving pretty well," said Pietrus, who was out with swelling in his right knee that has pretty much subsided by now. "You know I try to get in, try to help my team the best way I can, and get ready for the playoffs."
STAT TO TRACK: Milwaukee has been one of the best all season at forcing turnovers, with opponents committing 15.9 per game which ranks fourth in the NBA. Those turnovers have led to 18.9 points per game which ranks fifth in the NBA. The C's have been middle-of-the-pack in terms of points off turnovers with 16.3, No 15 in the NBA this season. As far as turnovers, Boston ranks sixth with 15.6 forced per game.
WHAT WE SAW: The Bucks didn't play a lot of their core guys - just like the Celtics - and it certainly showed in their inability to generate easy points off of turnovers. Milwaukee forced the Celtics into committing 15 turnovers but only generated 14 points off of Boston's mistakes. Meanwhile, the C's forced 23 Bucks turnovers which led to 18 points.
"They got into us pretty good, but we made some plays that we haven't made all year," said Bucks coach Scott Skiles. "We made some decisions with the ball that we normally wouldn't make. They got into us, they were physical, and they caused us problems."