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


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 "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."

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

In an ideal world the Bruins could have signed highly regarded prospect Ryan Donato to a two-year entry level contract, watched him develop his game deliberately at the AHL level and received two full years of service before the forward hit restricted free agency. 

But that doesn’t take into account the current injury situation for the Boston Bruins with a few weeks to go in the regular season, and it didn’t factor in Donato’s leverage as an NCAA player that could have chosen free agency, or going back to Harvard for his senior year, if he didn’t get what he was looking for in negotiations with the Black and Gold. Clearly it never got to anything approaching a hard ball level between the Bruins and a young player with plenty of B’s background in Donato, and now he’ll get to suit up for Boston and most likely make his NHL debut on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

MORE - Backes 'will be out for a couple games' with right leg laceration

Once he plays for the Bruins that will burn the first year on his two-year entry level contract, and it will also prohibit him from heading to Providence and playing for the P-Bruins through the rest of the hockey season. It’s the exact same situation Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson found himself in last spring when it was pretty clear after one game in Boston that he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL level. 

After Donato makes his debut it will be up to him and how NHL-ready he looks when he jumps into the Boston lineup, but it’s pretty clear they need some more dynamic top-6 bodies with Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk all out of the lineup, and Anders Bjork done for the season as well as what could have been a good reserve option at the AHL level. 

None of those players are expected to return in the next couple of games or even in the next week most likely, so there may be an opening for Donato to dazzle if he's prepared to seize the opportunity. 

“Once [Harvard’s season] was over with I had an opportunity to speak with his family advisor and with the family and with Ryan himself. We just worked through what looked like the opportunity he was looking for and we were happy to provide that,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “We have some injuries and we’re at the point in the season where every game has a lot on the line. I think his being able to go over and have success at the Olympics this year really started to jumpstart his thought process that he was ready for the next challenge.

“I think Ryan might have looked at [the injuries on the NHL roster] as an even bigger opportunity for him to go in and possibly play as early as [Monday night]. From our standpoint, we had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school. I think the two things just kind of lined up accordingly. We definitely are cognizant that the injuries are there, and they’ve mounted a little bit here coming down the stretch. It’s a testament to the group of players that we have [that led to the Tampa] win after losing [David] Backes early in the game and guys really playing well.”

Clearly Donato was ready for the next level after dominating college hockey to the tune of 26 goals in 29 games for the Crimson this season, and serving as one of Team USA’s best players in last month’s Olympic hockey tournament. Donato has a high hockey IQ that usually comes along with being the son of an NHL player, has a nose for the net for a young player that isn’t the biggest or strongest guy on the ice and has become a dangerous sniper with his NHL-level shot and release. The question now is whether all of those skills are “plug and play” at the NHL level, or if he’s more in the mold of similar NCAA players like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that needed some development time at the minor league level. 

“He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details that he’s going to have to work on. All young players do, more importantly the inexperience part of it, but he’s a kid that has hard skill,” said Sweeney. “So we’re looking forward to having him join our team, get immersed, and get a taste, and then it’s up to him. He’ll take it with however far he can run with it, but he is welcomed to the opportunity.

“We’re not going to put any pressure on him to say ‘You have to produce.’ It’s like every player; he’s going to be another player that the coach will have an opportunity to play in situations, and the player himself will dictate how much time and circumstances they play in. We feel that, if we get healthy, we’re going to have a deep group. He’s going to add to that group. Then it’s up to him.”

It would be unfair to expect Donato to have an impact on this Bruins team like Craig Janney did coming out of college thirty years ago, but that’s what many are going to equate it to based on the circumstances. Instead it should be looked at as another talented young player that the Bruins are going to add to their embarrassment of young hockey talent riches, and a player that could possibly help them get through a current tough stretch of injuries and attrition. If Donato does anything more than that then it’s another great story in a Boston Bruins season that’s been chock full of them from beginning to end.


The Baseball Show Podcast: Should we be confident in the Red Sox rotation?

NBC Sports Boston Photo

The Baseball Show Podcast: Should we be confident in the Red Sox rotation?

0:21 - With less than two week before the beginning of the 2018 season, the Red Sox don’t have all of the answers for their rotation. Lou Merloni and Evan Drellich project their Opening Day rotation and discuss the lack of depth in it.

4:39 - Will Boston’s version of the ‘Killer B’s’ return in full force this season? Lou and Evan analyze the performances of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi.

10:07 - Buy or sell? John Farrell will find another managerial position this season; J.D. Martinez will have a better season than Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton; Dave Dombrowski has put the best possible team out there for 2018.