Walker had injured his knee when Eric Snow fell on him in the third quarter of the Philadelphia game. The early medical estimate was that he would be out for two weeks, but Walker disputed that estimate. Immediately after the game, Walker had also been named to the three-point shooting competition at the upcoming All-Star weekend in Atlanta in February. But regardless of what might happen in Atlanta, or what might happen within the next two weeks, it was a given that he would not be playing tonight.
Therefore, it was absolutely necessary that the Celtics step up and try to fill ‘Toine’s sneakers. They simply could not expect Paul Pierce to do everything for them, so it meant everybody from Vin Baker to Walter McCarty to J.R. Bremer, even to the newest acquisition-Grant Long-were all going to have to do their best to score more points, get more rebounds, and generally play beyond themselves if they wanted to win this game against Milwaukee. It was not only Walker's play the Celtics would miss, but also his leadership. Walker is the emotional center of this team and it was going to take a great deal to try to compensate.
To alleviate matters somewhat, both Tony Delk and Tony Battie, who had not been expected to play due to their own injuries, were both dressed and on the bench this evening. The Celtics would have the starting lineup of J.R. Bremer, Paul Pierce, Vin Baker, Kedrick Brown, and Eric Williams. Milwaukee, on the other Paw, went with a starting lineup of Sam Cassell, Ray Allen, Jason Free, Anthony Mason, and Tim Thomas. The Bucks were disgustingly healthy.
The game began as the Celtics put their four game winning streak on the line. The Celtics managed get the tipoff, and Paul Pierce immediately went to work, launching a deep two that did not go in. The Bucks took the rebound and brought the ball upcourt. Anthony Mason made his opening shot to give the Bucks a 2-0 lead. Early on, it was readily apparent that the Celtics missed Antoine Walker’s handling of the ball. Their offense was a bit tentative and unsure. Milwaukee almost sent the ball out of bounds on their end, but Kedrick Brown recovered it and ran up court to get two points, putting the Celtics on the board at last with 10:28 to go.
Allen once again fired from the outside, as he began a pattern that would last throughout the game. Milwaukee is known primarily for their offense, not their defense. While the Celtics, by means of three-point shot, were able to keep up on the offense end, it was an open question whether the Celtics could successfully defend against Milwaukee’s offense. The Celtics and the Bucks were essentially trading baskets for the next few possessions.
The Celtics played solid defense, keeping their eyes on the players and the ball. Walker was sitting on the Celtics bench, wearing a purple suit. He might not be able to play, but he was determined to be the cheerleader on the bench - whatever it took to help his team win. Vin Baker went hard to the hoop, got the basket and drew the foul off a nice pass from Eric Williams right under the basket. Unfortunately, Vin still doesn't shoot free throws well.
The Celtics were doing an excellent job in the early part of the quarter, with Kedrick Brown particularly rebounding well off the boards. The problem was, Milwaukee was shooting very well, making a high percentage of tough shots. Sam Cassell added to the problems for the Celtics defense, as he hit his first shot.
J.R. Bremer hit a three-point shot, but Milwaukee came right back and scored once again. Both Eric Williams and Baker were working hard on the boards. Kedrick was doing his best to help try to stop penetration, and Pierce was out on the parameter to try keep anybody from shooting an open three. The problem was, Milwaukee was making difficult shots on a consistent basis. The Celtics were shooting fairly well - just not as well as Milwaukee was.
With 5:14 to go in the quarter, Milwaukee was going 9-14, while Boston was 5-13. J.R. Bremer was proving to be one of the scoring supplements the Celtics needed, as he promptly sank the three-point shot to close the gap. It looks like it might be one of those nights were Jim O'Brien's offensive theory might pan out - if the Celts keep shooting a decent number of three-point shots, they stood a good chance of winning the game. It did seem the best way to combat the fact that Milwaukee was hitting an inordinate number of shots - even for a team that shoots as well as they do the began with.
J.R. Bremer hit yet another three-point shot,
making him 4-4. On the next trip up, Pierce got a good look at the
ball, and tried to pass it to an open Baker. Unfortunately, when
the ball got to Baker, it was down around his ankles and moving awfully
fast. Baker tried to get it, but there was really no chance.
That's too bad, because he would have had an easy two.
Timeout was called with 4:09 to go in the quarter, and Milwaukee leading 22-20
Following the timeout, the Bucks went right back to doing what they had been doing, except this time to Celtics were able to snatch down the rebound on a rare miss. Pierce fired the ball to Walter McCarty in the corner, and the Good Guys went up three. With just over three minutes to go, Boston was shooting 50%. Unfortunately, Milwaukee was shooting 58%.
Grant Long came into the game for Boston, giving the referees somebody to call for fouls besides Baker. One of the problems the Celtics had was that Pierce sometimes has an exaggerated notion of what makes a good pass - or how good the intended recipient might be. He tried to fire one to Grant Long under the basket only to see it picked off by the Bucks and turned into a three-point shot, extending their lead over Boston.
So far, Boston was out rebounding Milwaukee 11-7, so the rebounding effort was definitely there, Walter McCarty sank another three-point shot, indicating that the scoring ability was also there. The Celtics played tight defense against the Bucks, forcing their share of turnovers and difficult shots. As time wore down, the Celtics tried hard to keep Milwaukee from scoring, but the Bucks were hitting very difficult shots no matter what the Celtics defense did to them. Grant Long once again showed that he was willing to do the dirty work under the basket, right next to Kedrick. The quarter ended with the Bucks leading, 33-26.
The Celtics played much better or that I thought they’d be able to without Walker. Despite his absence, the C’s did a good job at both ends of the court, doing about as well as one could expect without one of the duo who was normally responsible for 50 to 75% of the scoring.
The problem was, that despite the Celtics efforts on the defense end, Milwaukee was hitting a lot of shots they don't necessarily always hit. It looks like it was going to be one of those nights for the Bucks. I can hardly blame them, since the Celtics had beaten them last week.
In the 1st quarter, The C’s shot 41%; as well
as 16-10 from the three-point line. But they had 6 turnovers to 1
for the Bucks. Milwaukee was shooting 64%, and was 4-7 from the arc.
Tony Battie got back into the game, and showed he still likes to loiter under the basket. Eric Williams worked hard on an offensive rebound after a McCarty miss. They sent the ball back to Walter, and this time he made it go down. If he keeps playing like this, Tommy will have competition.
The Celtics worked the ball on offense, looking for the good shot. The next trip up, a good shot came courtesy of Eric Williams. Then Waltah! stole the ball and probably zoomed right down the middle of the lane and into the basket for two.
Unfortunately, Michael Redd of the Bucks was also doing damage from the outside. The Celtics are doing the best to exploit Milwaukee’s lack of a cohesive defense. Unfortunately, at the same time, Milwaukee was making hash out of the Celtics defense. When timeout was called with 8:42 to go in the quarter, Milwaukee led 43-35.
Following the timeout, the Celtics moved it over half court as Williams got the ball into Pierce, who made a nice feed to Battie under the hoop. Unfortunately, the Bat-Man didn't quite get it over the rim and ended up having to go to the line. He really needs to power those up - although I should cut him some slack since this is his first came back from an injury. It’s likely he's back sooner that he should be. He made both, always a good sign.
Boston was going to live - or die - by the three. Milwaukee was 6-10 while Boston was 7-13, and we hadn't even gotten halfway through the second quarter yet. Tony Battie didn't quite seem to have a lot of lift in his legs at times, but he had enough to get his share of rebounds.
Walter McCarty proved he was still consistent at the arc, as he hit another three. With seven minutes to go in the half, the Celtics were down by 5 points, 45-40.
Pierce got a steal off the next Buck possession, but immediately negated that steal with a poor cross court pass to Eric Williams - or rather, about 2 1/2 feet above where Williams was able to reach. Pierce had Bremer down on his side and could have made a simple pass to J.R. just as quickly. Like I said, sometimes Pierce gets a little too creative on his passing without always paying attention to the little details that make the pass a lot safer.
Walter was left unguarded once more from the corner, and once more he made them pay with another three-point shot. That was the difference so far; Milwaukee was scoring faster and more often, but the C’s were often getting three-point shots when they did score. Timeout was called with 5:52 to go and the Bucks leading 47-43.
Following the timeout, the Bucks continued their offensive ways. Redd in particular was doing a lot of damage. Pierce went to the hoop for two, though of course, without blood being spilled there would be no foul called his way to the basket. With 4:43 in the half, the Tim Thomas was injured going after a rebound with Pierce. Thomas hit the ground and injured his right shoulder. He would not return to the game. Pierce got taken down hard on the next possession, and went to the line, making both.
The Celtics again played tough defense, forcing Milwaukee to work hard to find an open man. This time they got a steal, which ended up with Pierce getting more points. That made it 51-49 with 2:48 to go. The Celtics rebounded a Milwaukee miss, and brought the ball up once more to tie the game or even take the lead. Kedrick was filed on his way to the hoop, making 1-2. I was annoyed that three Milwaukee players had completely boxed out Walter McCarty and Baker on the rebound of the missed free throw. They had absolutely no chance of getting the ball.
Kedrick then got a defensive rebound, and the Celtics took possession once more. Pierce took another really bad pass. I’m glad that Pierce is looking pass the ball, but he needs to make smarter passes than THAT. It's something they should probably work on in practice. On the next possession, Pierce did play smarter, giving Ray Allen so many fakes Allen wasn't sure Pierce was ever going to do anything with the ball before Paul finally drew the foul. He made both free throws, and the score was now 54-52, Milwaukee leading with 1:04 to go in the half.
Walter’s shot on the next trip was short, and Kedrick was unable to snag the rebound. The Bucks decided to work the clock, attempting to get something close to the last shot. Ray Allen went down the middle of lame, and was planning to pass it back out after drawing the defense, but Baker got called for a foul. Ray went to the line, and made good. The Celtics took the ball in bounds and attempted to take the last shot, but J.R. Bremer was fouled as he went to the hoop, shooting free throws with 0.9 seconds to go in the half. He made both, and Pierce stole the inbound from Milwaukee, immediately launching the ball toward the basket. It didn't go, and the halftime came with Milwaukee leading 56-54.
The first half had been what the Celtics had wanted. Walter McCarty and J.R. Bremer stepped up to try to fill the void left by the injured Antoine Walker. The C’s were working harder, faster, and smarter in their effort to beat Milwaukee. About the only thing that was posing a problem was despite the Celtics best efforts, Milwaukee was hitting tough shots. One could hardly ask them to give more effort, but the Celtics needed to find some way to stop the Bucks offense if they wanted to win this game. It would be a tough game no matter what happened, and they’d have to push to the limit to win.
Boston shot 42% in the first half, while Milwaukee
had gone 54%. From the arc, Milwaukee was 6-11, and Boston was 9-19.
The Cs were out rebounding the Bucks, 22-19. Milwaukee had managed
to score 15 points off Boston turnovers, a statistic that also needed to
Milwaukee opened the third quarter right where they left off in the second - hitting another shot. J.R. Bremer faked Johnson out of his socks, only to miss the bank shot off the front end of the rim. On the other end, Kedrick planted himself on defense, only to be run over right in front of the official. On replay, it was close as to whether he got his feet set in time, but you’d think once in a while these calls would go to the home team. Milwaukee turned the gift into another basket.
Ray Allen finally found way to stop Pierce from scoring – he wrapped his arm around Pierce and didn’t let him leave the ground. Despite the Celtics playing smart offense, the Bucks got back and almost inevitably scored. I emphasize, this was not a matter of the Celtics playing bad defense-just the opposite. It simply wasn't sufficient to stop Milwaukee for making those shots. If the Celtics were under achieving anywhere, it was in making the most of their offensive opportunities. Often, a Celtic player would get fouled on the way to the basket, and instead of making the shot and going to the line for one, he had to shoot two.
With 8:52 to go, Kedrick Brown and Ray Allen got into it, after he objected to the way Kedrick fouled him on his way to the hoop. If Ray thought that was bad, he should try taking some of the shots that leveled Pierce over the last couple of months. When they showed the replay, all that happened was that Brown shoved Allen to the side a little. Pierce considers that incidental contact. “T”s were called on both players, but justice prevailed as Cassell ended up having to take shot clock jumper that missed everything except the floor behind the out of bounds line.
With 8:35 to go in the third-quarter, Milwaukee led 64-57. The Celtics had good ball movement on the next possession, resulting in Eric Williams making a nice drive to the basket. But Eric tends not to finish those shots when he gets fouled. To complicate matters, he’s not an especially good free throw shooter, going 1-2.
The Celtics played solid defense, but once again Milwaukee was simply shooting over the tough defense. I always hate to give the other team credit, because I’m just that kind of Celtics fan - but the truth of the matter was offensively speaking, Milwaukee was doing better than Boston. And that's on a night when Boston was having a pretty good offensive night of its own.
The Celtics were rebounding, and Battie got another basket to put the C’s back within two points once again, 68-66 with 6:28 to go in the third. Walker continued to lead cheers from the bench, often standing right at the very edge of the out of bounds line, as if daring the officials to call a technical - or more likely, to make comments in the direction of the other team. But his hard as they were playing they couldn't quite catch Milwaukee. The C’s worked hard on the boards at both ends, harder than in some time. I wish they’d do this every game.
Delk buried a three-point shot with 4:46 to go, to reduce the Milwaukee lead to one. While the Bucks maintained the lead, they were never totally in command of this game. At every turn, the Celtics were making run on them, trying to gain the lead and control of the game. By no means was this a cakewalk for the Bucks. The Celtics were playing an ostensibly better team, and matching them without the presence of one of their top two scores. If this game had taken place last season the outcome would have been doubtful. Two years ago, it was a guaranteed loss under these circumstances. It says a great deal for this team that the Celtics today had a good chance of winning this game even without Walker.
But Milwaukee continued to pile on the points, led by the likes of Ray Allen and Michael Redd. When timeout was called with 3:48 to go, the lead was 75-69. To this stage, Boston was shooting a decent 41% from the field. But Milwaukee was shooting 57%.
After the timeout, Walter McCarty made a drive and scored from just inside the free throw line. I like that, as it means Walter’s midrange shot is getting more confident. Ray Allen added more points for the Milwaukee side. It's not like the Celtics were unaware of Allen's presence at the offensive end - in fact, Ray had to take his latest shot practically through Pierce's head. When you shot like that from outside the arc, you earned your points. As the quarter wound down, the game was getting out of hand despite the best efforts of Boston.
Even Tony Kukoc was hitting three-point shots. It was that kind of night for the Celtics. Battie still looked a little shaky on that knee, but was playing well. I give him a lot of credit for being out there earlier than he really should be, given his injury. The third quarter ended with Milwaukee leading, 84-76.
After three quarters, the C’s were shooting 41% against Milwaukee's 56%. Boston was 12-28 from the three-point line, but Milwaukee was an impressive 10-17! The Celtics held advantage in free throws, going 16-20 while Milwaukee was 8-9.
The Good Guys desperately needed to work their
defense in the final quarter if they had any chance. They were also
going to have to shoot even more consistently than they had been.
Walter McCarty got them off on the right direction, but Cassell quickly silenced the Fleet Center crowd. They spent a couple of trips trading rebounds and misses, before J.R. Bremer went to the line, going 1-2. The crowd was chanting for defense, and they were getting it to the best of Boston's ability as Eric Williams tore down a rebound. The Celtics moved the ball around the court, looking for the open shot. But after Bremer’s shot didn’t go, Pierce got taken down on the rebound as no foul was called.
Something I simply don't understand, is how Eric Williams consistently pulls up just inside the free throw line trying to make a jump shot against the defense when he knows he's never go to get it in. I wish he would either pull back for a deeper jump shot or simply go to the hoop and try to at least draw a foul. He missed several shots in this quarter alone.
With 8:49 to go in the game, the Bucks lead was 89-79. Pierce, however, had no trouble hitting jumpers from the same area where Williams had failed so badly. Pierce did not limit himself to the offensive end, as he challenged Ray Allen's next attempted three, making him alter his shot and sending the rebound into the hands of J.R. Bremer, who returned the favor by giving it back to Pierce for another two points - and the increased volume of the fans. With seven minutes ago, the score was now 92-85. The Celtics played incredibly tight defense on the next possession, only for the ball to get coughed up inadvertently to one of the Milwaukee players who committed accidental offense for two.
The Celtics continued to try to keep pace, but they were not able to make any serious dents to the Milwaukee lead. Pierce went to the line with 5:22 remaining and when he was done, the score was 97-89. Pierce was certainly doing his part as were McCarty and Bremer. But the Good Guys needed more from everybody. Walter played outstanding defense and got the ball to Pierce who sank a three-point shot from way outside to make it 97-91 with 4:38 to go.
Anthony Mason has the weirdest form at the free throw line I’ve ever seen. What he does is he stretches out and stands on his toes with his arms fully extended above his head. Then he stops, dead in his tracks, as if time had frozen around him. Then he flips the ball toward the basket with his hands and a little flick of his wrists. And yet somehow, the pumpkin went in.
Walter McCarty was continuing to score heavily in this game. Like I said, I wish he’d play like this every game. The score was now 98-93 with 3:25 to go. Walter then pulled down another rebound off a Milwaukee miss, as Walker hollered encouragement from nearby. Pierce would have added another two points had he not been whapped on his way up with the ball. In some places, that is referred to as “aggravated assault and battery”, not “incidental contact”.
If you keep giving the Bucks opportunities to store, they're going to do it - and the officials were giving them every opportunity. Ray Allen sank a three-point shot to make it 100-93 with 2:32 left. Pierce responded with his own basket as Baker got taken to the floor. You may have noticed by this time there was a discrepancy in how fouls are called at each end.
Milwaukee missed, but got the rebound. The Celtics had to make a stop here, but Ray Allen made another one with Bremer in his face and arm raised. With 1:33 to go timeout was called as the Bucks led 102-95. Following the timeout, Kedrick dunked the ball. He definitely knows the meaning of “take it to the hoop”!
It was now 102-97 with one minute left. Milwaukee lost it out of bounds to Boston on the next possession, and with less than a minute to go the Celtics would take the ball up court. Somehow - I'm not sure how - Pierce went up with three people hanging on to him but no foul was called. When he leaned away from the man who took the rebound he got called.
Milwaukee called a 20-second timeout to set up their play, and afterward Eric Williams very nearly stole ball from them. They had to take it back in with 11 seconds on the shot clock. Mason to get in against Eric Williams, and in frustration Eric karate chopped on Mason's shoulder.
With 26 seconds left in the game, the score was 104-97, Milwaukee leading. Boston took the ball over half court, as Pierce fired it to McCarty, who launched it and missed. Cassell was fouled as he took the rebound with 17.9 seconds left. He made his free throws, and the Celtics to the ball up court once again only see Bremer's shot miss. The Bucks dribbled out the clock to win with a score of 106-97.
There are times when I've complained about the Celtics for poor play leading to a loss. But tonight, while I do wish they had been more successful in some aspects of defense and offense, I have to admit that we got beaten by a team that played better than the Celtics did. Milwaukee definitely earned this win without any question. The Celtics can be proud of the fact that even without Anton Walker, they played the Bucks as close and as hard as anyone could have wished for - short of actually winning the game.
Pierce was his normal explosive scoring self, Walter McCarty and J.R. Bremer were brilliant, and the Celtics as a team took it up several notches and displayed the kind of hard work that I firmly believe will get them their 17th championship this June.
It was a hard fought game, and a very tough loss. But in all honesty, this game would have been hard to win even if Walker had been playing. What remained now was for the Celtics to take the extraordinary effort they had made in this game and apply it in each game - not just until Walker comes back, but after he returns. If they can play to this level on a regular basis, the Eastern Conference - and the NBA – will have new champions this year.
The Celtics were all heroes tonight, from Pierce and McCarty and Bremer on the floor to Walker on the sidelines, cheering all the way. Yes, there’s some nit-picking, as I think the C’s in general need to work on shot selection and Pierce needs to reconsider his idea of what makes and appropriate pass, but I liked the effort the C’s put out tonight, and look forward to their next game against the Denver Nohoops—er, Nuggets.
And that’s the view from the doghouse.