Celtics

Bucks have a new weapon for Round 3 vs. Celtics

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Bucks have a new weapon for Round 3 vs. Celtics

BOSTON – One of the many things that makes Giannis Antetokounmpo such a special talent, is how he can grab a rebound and initiate a fast break all by his lonesome. 

It was easy for the Milwaukee Bucks to defer to him, because there was no one on their roster whose talents thrived in transition as much as the Greek Freak’s … until Eric Bledsoe arrived via trade. 

And with Bledsoe in the fold, Milwaukee has become a much tougher team to defend because when it comes to initiating the offense, you really have no idea whether it’ll be Antetokounmpo or Bledsoe.

“Whoever gets the rebound, brings it up,” Bledsoe said “Coach (Jason) Kidd draws up plays in time-outs. Who handle it, who doesn’t.”

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The addition of Bledsoe has indeed made the Bucks a deeper, more athletic and versatile team in the backcourt. But his arrival has also meant Malcolm Brogdon, the league’s Rookie of the Year last season, returning to coming off the bench. 

Bledsoe said there hasn’t been any kind of sit-down conversation between him and Brogdon. 

“At the same time, I’m not trying to take his spot or show, “I’m better,” Bledsoe said. “It’s a team thing. We need him as much as everybody needs each other. He’s one of the biggest pieces to this thing. What he brings to the game, I can’t bring. He comes off the bench, he plays … some of these games we’ve won, he’s played great in. So we definitely need him.”

Bucks head coach Jason Kidd echoed similar sentiments.

“Malcolm came off the bench for us last year at some parts of the season,” Kidd said. “Just understanding that he’s a true pro. Finishing games is what it’s all about, understanding your best five are on the floor at the end. And so, understanding he’s going to be on the floor a lot of times at the end of ball games. The only thing that’s changed is he doesn’t hear his name announced at the beginning of games.”

Added Bledsoe: “It’s all about one goal and that’s winning a championship. It’s not about, ‘oh he took my spot’ or ‘he’s better than me’ or ‘how much he get paid, how much I get paid.’ It’s about one thing and that’s winning; winning solves everything.”

Here are five under-the-radar story lines heading into tonight’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks.

 

CLIMATE CHANGE

After beginning his career with the Los Angeles Clippers and moving on to the Phoenix Suns, Eric Bledsoe might need to brush up on his winter wardrobe, right? 

Not exactly. 

 “I had plenty of (winter coats),” Bledsoe said. “But I could never use them in Phoenix. Now I can put them to use. I had a lot of dust on them so I can blow the dust off them now.”

 

AWESOME AL HORFORD

Some of the best work offensively we’ve seen from Al Horford this season has come against the Milwaukee Bucks. This season, he’s averaging 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. The 20.0 points are Horford’s highest average this season against a team the Celtics have played more than once. 

 

ARON BAYNES 

He may be in and out of the starting lineup, but Baynes continues to be a steady, impactful force when he’s on the floor for the Celtics. His defensive rating of 91.2 is tops among all players in the league while limiting opponents to shooting just 43 percent from the field against him. 

 

BUCKS FIRE AWAY

Milwaukee gets a lot of praise for its roster that’s filled with long-armed scorers. But what’s often overlooked is the Bucks shooting this season. Milwaukee comes into tonight’s game shooting 48.0 percent from the field which ranks third in the NBA this season. 

 

REBOUNDING 

The Celtics have had a rough go of it late when it comes to rebounding. But the Bucks just may be the elixir they need to cure whatever has gone wrong with them on the boards. Milwaukee has a rebounding percentage of 47.2 which ranks 29th (out of 30 teams) in the NBA this season. Meanwhile, the Celtics have shown some slippage of late when it comes to rebounding, but they still respectable rebounding percentage of .513 which ranks ninth in the NBA.

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Celtics bench needs to keep improving

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Celtics bench needs to keep improving

When you look at the Boston Celtics’ bench, you’re not going to find many (any?) players who are consistent shot-makers.

But defensively, in this small-ball era we live in, the potential for Boston’s second unit to put the clamps on teams defensively is apparent.

We saw that in Boston’s 102-93 win over Memphis in the fourth quarter when the Celtics opened with a 16-0 run that put them ahead for good.

During the run, the Celtics forced four turnovers along with creating seven straight misses by the Grizzlies to start the quarter.

“Shane (Larkin) and Terry (Rozier) did a great job on the ball,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We had to change some coverages because of (Marc) Gasol. And then just kind of stayed with it.”

The Grizzlies wound up shooting 33.3 percent (6-for-18) in the fourth quarter which was heavily impacted by Boston's fourth quarter defensive rating being an impressive 90.1.

And while the play of starters Jayson Tatum (19 points, seven in the fourth quarter), Kyrie Irving (team-high 20 points) and Al Horford (15 points, seven rebounds, six assists) was key to the victory, the second unit’s play defensively to start the fourth was ultimately what paved the way for Boston to improve its East-leading record to 25-7.

In a interview with NBC Sports Boston prior to Saturday’s game, Rozier discussed the need for the bench to step up in every aspect of the game.

“When the starters are doing good, we have to keep it going and when they struggle a little bit, we have change the game up, get the momentum back on our side,” said Rozier who in addition to playing good defense on Saturday, also had 10 points and four rebounds.

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 102-93 win at Memphis on Saturday.

FAST START

This was one of the more dominant starts to a game we’ve seen from the Celtics all season. They had 31 points in the first quarter, which was one of the higher scoring starts for them this season. But more telling was that they allowed just 12 points, the fewest given up by the Celtics in the first quarter of play this season.

TERRY ROZIER/MARCUS SMART TANDEM

 When it comes to the Boston’s bench being effective, Rozier and Smart are often the barometers for that success. They had their ups and downs against Memphis, but really locked in at both ends of the floor in the second half. And maybe most significant, they provided some much-needed bench scoring as they combined for 21 of Boston’s 26 points off the bench.

JAYSON TATUM

Like the Boston Celtics, back-to-back bad games doesn’t seem to be part of his DNA. Against the Grizzlies, he had 19 points – seven of which in the fourth quarter – which was a major improvement upon the seven points he scored against Utah on Friday while missing five of his six shot attempts.

MARC GASOL

This has been a horrible, injury-riddled season for the Memphis Grizzlies. And while Marc Gasol doesn’t dominate games as consistently as he did a couple years ago, he’s still an extremely talented big man who would plenty of potential suitors if the Grizzlies ever felt inclined to put him on the trading block which is not the case currently. The Celtics had major problems limiting him on Saturday before Gasol finished with a double-double of 30 points and 10 rebounds.

CELTICS DOMINATE THE WEST

Beating the Grizzlies in itself isn’t all that impressive. But it continues what has been a season-long trend for the Celtics in being able to beat on teams from the Western Conference. This season, Boston has a 10-2 record against the West. And Boston’s .833 winning percentage against Western Conference foes is tops among Eastern Conference teams.

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Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

The Boston Celtics got the win over Memphis, with the team’s second unit chipping in for the victory.

But they still have too many offensive lulls, something head coach Brad Stevens recognizes and to his credit, is continuing to search for ways to address appropriately.

We’ve seen him utilize a starter playing with the backups.

But in Saturday’s 102-93 win at Memphis, Stevens elected to play a pair of starters with the second unit for longer stretches which on this night at least, helped them get the victory to extend their East-leading record to 25-7.

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In fact, Boston had at least two starters on the floor in the fourth quarter for all but the final 28.4 seconds of play.

“It’s one of those things, it’s probably going to go back and forth,” Stevens said. “Based on who’s available.”

A key missing part of the Celtics’ bench rotation is Marcus Morris who continues with rehab on his sore left knee.

Morris, who did not make the trip with the team, is out indefinitely although the Celtics maintain that he’s close to resuming action.

Stevens was asked about his use of Jayson Tatum and Al Horford together, with a trio of reserves.

“If Marcus Morris is here, maybe you don’t play either of them with that group,” Stevens said.

Morris has appeared in 16 games (nine starts) for the Celtics this season, averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.

Indeed, bench production has been an issue for the Boston Celtics all season.

According to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics bench came into tonight’s game averaging 30.5 points per game which ranked 23rd in the NBA. However, Boston’s defense has limited second units to 32.6 points per game which ranks 8th in the league.

Against the Grizzlies, Boston only had three players off the bench score (Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis) who combined for 26 points.

But as limited as they were scoring the ball, Memphis was even worse with a second unit scoring total of just 15 points.

Of course, rotations are a season-long, always-evolving process that is dependent heavily on not just who is available, but how those who are available to play are performing.

The Celtics’ second unit has had their moments this season, but by and large the team’s success has been heavily fueled by the play of the starters.

Stevens has made it clear, he’ll continue to find ways for those guys to be put in the best positions to succeed individually as well as for the Celtics.

And as long as Morris remains out, you can expect Stevens will continue to find ways to fill that void with increased usage from his starters.

“As long as Marcus Morris isn’t playing,” Stevens said, “We need to be alert to that and guys are going to have to play different rotations.”

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