Celtics-Bucks review: What we saw


Celtics-Bucks review: What we saw

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.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1


STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl


Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.