Red hot Bucks beat the Boston Celtics in chippy, playoff atmosphere

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By Jake McCormick

Beating a Lebron-less Cleveland Cavalier team gave Milwaukee Bucks’ skeptics plenty of ammunition to rebut any argument supporting their current hot streak. After coming out of a dogfight against the hot-handed, full strength Boston Celtics with an 86-84 victory Tuesday night, Milwaukee froze their doubters like deer in headlights (that was too easy…I’m sorry).

Although coach Scott Skiles was quick to dismiss a second win in a row against a top four Eastern Conference team as just another game, I sensed something in the Bradley Center atmosphere. It was a presence I’ve not felt since 2005, and even then it wasn’t this strong. Of course, I’m talking about a playoff electricity that was too vibrant to be ignored.

Aided by the raucous crowd, lockdown pressure defense, and a double technical that sparked the Bucks’ final stand in the last few seconds, Milwaukee bested a veteran Celtic squad that brought their A game, in the words of Skiles. It’s one thing to beat a quality team with a few parts in need of repair, and it’s another thing entirely to outlast a group of savvy veterans that think of a playoff appearance as routine.

“We were really sharp on the defensive end,” Skiles said. “It was not an easy game for us. It was back and forth; it was a physical game. We were turning the ball over too much and had trouble finding any footing offensively even though we were shooting a good percentage. We needed out defense to keep us in the game and it did.”

Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings, and Skiles were all hesitant to call the win signature, but it surely was the most playoff-looking win the Bucks have had all season. They made defensive stops and clutch shots when it was absolutely necessary, and never let the Celtics get more than five points ahead of them in the second half.

MVP: Andrew Bogut
Bogut’s first half played out like a fateful trip to Subway, where you don’t realize the sandwich artist screwed up your order until you get a quarter of the way through the sub. He had 10 points and six rebounds in the first quarter, but only added two rebounds with a goose egg in the scoring column by halftime. The second half was a completely different story, as Bogut rescued a handful of offensive rebounds and played with the killer instinct of a rabid baby-snatching dingo.

He handed out bailout baskets left and right like they were free money, and finished the game with 25 points, 17 rebounds (including five offensive), and four blocks. Bogut’s definitive highlight came on a dunk over Glen Davis that left the big man flat on his butt. Bogut also helped to keep the offense stabilized when the Bucks uncharacteristically committed 15 turnovers. Still, his biggest moment came with 3.8 seconds left in the game.

“(Paul Pierce) took two or three dribbles and came off a ball screen,” Bogut said. “I kind of figured if I jumped out he might have time to hit KG back for a jumper, so I kind of stuck with it and contested the shot. I turned around and it looked like it was going in, but for once it rimmed out.”

LVP: Charlie Bell
Bell deserves to get off the hook because it seems like he hasn’t played double digit minutes in at least two weeks, but there were points where he took the ball inside himself instead of continuing the passing tree until someone got an open look. He definitely looked a bit rusty playing three times as many minutes as Luke Ridnour, but as Skiles said, execution flaws in this game were so minuet compared to the heart and toughness the team showed throughout the full 48 minutes.

Best supporting role: Carlos Delfino
Delfino came up big again, grabbing eight rebounds to go with 19 points, and a 5-8 clip from behind the three point line. Over the past four games, Delfino has averaged 16.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and has shot 51.7% from beyond the arc while providing respectable defense.

Did I also mention he was so sick that he needed two IV drips before the game started, and he still played 41 minutes? What makes his performance more impressive is that Skiles said there was only one area where Delfino’s flu hindered his play.

“His sickness manifested itself a little bit in that he didn’t drive much tonight,” Skiles said. “He stayed behind the line and knocked a couple down for us as well.”

Without Delfino rising above his own temperature to hit some clutch threes to keep the game close in the fourth quarter, there’s no telling how much harder things could’ve been for the Bucks, especially since Jerry Stackhouse was inactive with a strained left hamstring.

“It didn’t look like he was sick to me,” Jennings said. “He just fought through it, and that’s Carlos for you.”

One shot defines them all: Double technicals on Jennings and Big Baby
It wouldn’t be a Celtics game without a couple technical fouls.

As Jennings drove to the hoop halfway through the fourth quarter, Davis mauled him, which sent both of them to the ground. Jennings popped up quickly and stood over Davis for a few seconds “just to let him know (he) was OK,” in Jennings words. Both players were called for technicals when Davis pushed Jennings out of the way when he stood up, and it changed the course of the game. Milwaukee went on an 18-9 run to close out the fourth quarter, and the emotional scuffle played a big part in bringing the team together to finish a game that would’ve seemed like an inevitable loss earlier in the season.

“They’re known for punking people, and I wasn’t going to let them punk me,” Jennings said. “At the beginning of the season, we were losing a lot of close games, and now we’re all used to it. We just go out and make sure it doesn’t happen again because (the early losses) prepared up for what happens now.”

Key stat: 87 points or less
Over the Bucks’ current four game winning streak, they’ve held each opponent below 87 points, which is a testament to their solid, all around defense and ability to contain a player to his individual game instead of letting the supporting casts get into a rhythm as well. Milwaukee is also now 2-24 when trailing after the third quarter, while Boston is 19-2 when holding a team below 88 points in a game. All in all, the game came down to defensive resilience, which is essential if the Bucks are going to be competitive once the playoffs arrive.

What’s next?
Milwaukee can enjoy the win for another day before focusing on Utah’s trip to Milwaukee Friday night. The Jazz will be the third playoff test in a row at home for the Bucks, but as of this moment, the team’s confidence is extremely high and there’s no reason to think they can’t pull off a fifth straight win.

“Our confidence is high but we still have to stay grounded,” Bogut said. “We haven’t achieved anything yet. We’ll enjoy the win tonight and maybe tomorrow, but then it’s back to business. We can’t afford to have a lapse after beating Boston.”

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