“That’s about as humiliating a defeat as you’ll ever see. Right at the jump ball Rondo got right up into Brandon, they got right up into our guards, and they got us on our heels and took our competitive fight away from us. We pretty much just gave into it.” — Scott Skiles
Even though this one was beyond reach by halftime, the Celtics’ bench showed no mercy in the fourth quarter, shredding the Bucks 27-18. The final viscera, and Skiles’ resignation in its aftermath, was a vivid reminder of the 07-08 Celtics, a group that routinely obliterated teams on its way to the best record in the league and a brilliant 10.3 points-per-game average margin of victory.
Of course, this was no heavyweight clash. The badly-constructed Bucks, on a back-to-back, with a simpering offensive that ranks last in the league, was the basketball equivalent of a wounded animal thrown to a starving lion. What’s so encouraging is the Celtics didn’t play with its prey, but quickly cornered it, and tore it apart. From the outset, Boston’s defense challenged Milwaukee to earn its points. The Celtics jumped passing lanes for steals and deflections. They forced late-shot-clock jumpers. They swept in and cleaned up the boards.
Nenad Krstic was probably the best player on the floor with 11 points and 14 rebounds. He continues to cast Kendrick Perkins’ flaws on the offensive end into stark relief. He’s also making progress as a team defender (see his work on pick and rolls tonight) even if he’ll never be a beastly force defending the post. But the trade-off may be worth it. Krstic seems a fine fit for this team, unless this early burst of feisty play is a mirage and he shrinks against the rougher on-court climate of the playoffs.
Importantly, I think, the Celtics played this game with a swagger that’s been elusive since the trade deadline. It was apparent from the outset. Boston clearly expected to win this game, and perhaps as a result, played well enough to do just that, confidence being a powerful, intangible thing.
And beyond the question of five-man lineups and rotation patterns, these in-transition Celtics could probably use a dose of arrogance and obnoxiousness. In its optimal state, this team has spent the last four years as an intimidating gang of bullies that snarls at its opponents, dares them to match its intensity and effort — and then mocks them when they fall short.
For better and worse, that is Celtics basketball.
Or it was.
Boston is a solid 6-3 since the Perkins trade, but has looked tentative at times, confused at others, in both wins and losses.
That’s entirely expected, of course.
But everyone from fans to players to management will be rest easier when the team has reestablished itself as the clear favorite for the title in June, a burden this group carried rather lightly up until the trade deadline.