Celtics-Bucks preview review: What we saw...

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Celtics-Bucks preview review: What we saw...

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."

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.