By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON The Boston Celtics are not the same team defensively since the Feb. 24 trading deadline.
But for those who believe the C's defensive foundation was rubble-bound, take note of how the Celtics crushed the Milwaukee Bucks, 87-56, on Sunday.
It wasn't just another victory, which also snapped a two-game losing skid.
The Celtics delivered the defensive hammer with the kind of power and force we haven't seen from them all season.
"That's about as humiliating a defeat as you'll ever see," said Bucks coach Scott Skiles.
Rather than ease into the game, the Celtics starting five choose to put on the defensive clamps which made for an easy win.
"They got us on our heels and took our competitive fight away from us," Skiles said. "We pretty much gave into it."
It was a much-needed blowout for a team whose starting five has - lately at least - struggled to gain a firm grip at the outset of games.
Those problems of the past two games were nowhere to be found against the Bucks.
"It's nice," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, referring to his first unit getting off to a good start. "When they do, we're a better team, obviously. That's what we're banking on right now until we get right. When they start out slow it puts us in a huge hole, because now you're dependent on a second unit that hasn't been together very long."
Boston did have a familiar face return to the lineup on Sunday.
Having missed the previous four games with a left knee injury, Davis came off the bench to score nine points along with grabbing seven rebounds.
But the story of the night was Boston's defense, which gave up a franchise record-low 56 points. The previous record was set against the Hawks -- who, ironically, were based in Milwaukee at the time, prior to moving to first St. Louis and then Atlanta -- in 1955.
Other records of note established by the Celtics on Sunday included:
franchise-low in points given up in a half (22);
franchise-low in points given up after three quarters (38)
franchise-low in fewest field goals allowed (22).
Also, the 56 points scored were a franchise record-low for the Bucks in the shot-clock era.
Even though the Celtics played a record-setting brand of defense, Rivers wasn't convinced his team deserves all the credit. The Bucks were in the second night of a back-to-back stretch, having played Saturday at home against Philadelphia.
"I really thought this was one of those scheduled losses for Milwaukee," Rivers said. "It was very similar to the game we had against Phoenix on Jan. 28. The Bucks played a game, and . . . then lost an hour going backwards from the Central time zone to the East. Then they lost another hour with the time change from Standard time to Daylight Savings Time. And then we started the game at 6 o'clock instead of the normal 7:30 starting time. I just thought . . . they were tired. We took advantage of that, and that was great. But a lot of it had to do with their schedule."
Schedule or not, the Celtics came out with the kind of focus and attention to detail on defense that we hadn't seen recently.
"It was definitely encouraging to just put together a four-quarter game of defense," said Paul Pierce. "I definitely thought we did that tonight."
Even more impressive was how very little changed for the Celtics defensively when they went to their bench.
Rivers elected to take Rajon Rondo out about midway through the first quarter, with the Celtics ahead, 10-4.
He had Carlos Arroyo finish out the quarter which ended with the Celtics going on a 10-5 run.
Boston continued to stifle the Bucks with a suffocating defense that took away everything the Bucks wanted to do.
And the struggles by Milwaukee started with point guard Brandon Jennings.
He had eight points and just one turnover, but there was never a point in the game where it seemed comfortable.
And his lack of comfort seemed to be contagious to the rest of the Bucks.
"We were so passive," Skiles said. "You could tell their plan was to jump on our point guard early, jump on our guard, get up into them, and see if we had any sort of response to it, and we didn't."