Celtics

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.

Agent says Gordon Hayward is unlikely to return this season

Agent says Gordon Hayward is unlikely to return this season

Hopes that the Celtics would have Gordon Hayward back in the lineup later this year were dashed last night by Hayward's agent, Mark Bartelstein.

Hayward underwent surgery Wednesday night for a fractured and dislocated left tibia, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens had said earlier in the day that Hayward's prognosis would be better known after doctors saw the extent of the damage. When the operation was over, Bartelstein told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski not to expect Hayward to play again this season.

But there is good news:

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“We’re expecting this to be a full recovery,” Stevens had said earlier. “No timeline on it, but a full recovery.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Celtics drop back-to-back games

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Celtics drop back-to-back games

0:41 - Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith give their thoughts on Kyrie Irving’s struggles, not having Gordon Hayward, and the Celtics losing for the 2nd time in as many nights.

6:31 - A. Sherrod Blakely joins BST to discuss the message delivered by Hayward to the fans before the game, what was going on with Kyrie’s shot, and why they failed in stopping The Greek Freak.

10:33 - Albert Breer joins BST to preview the Falcons/Patriots Sunday night game and if Atlanta is in the middle of a Super Bowl hangover.

15:40 - In a new game called On The Clock, each person gets 40 seconds to rant on their selected subject including if Red Sox fans can root for the Yankees if the playoffs and how painful the Bruins season will be. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE