Milwaukee buckles against tough Celtics defense
There was an odd degree of pressure in an otherwise meaningless moment.
Keyon Dooling was at the line for two free throws with 22 seconds left. Neither of them would have undone the mess the Bucks had gotten themselves into. There wasn’t a rope long enough to pull them out of the 31-point canyon the Celtics had them in. But history was riding on those free throws.
Make them, and the Bucks would keep the Celtics from setting a franchise record for fewest points allowed in the shot-clock era.
Make them, and the Bucks would avoid the lowest point total in franchise history.
Dooling was an 80 percent career free throw shooter and hadn’t missed one in three weeks.
The first free throw ricocheted off the right side of the rim. The second one bounced off the front lip.
The night was that futile for the Bucks in what ended up an 87-56 loss at the Garden.
They shot 31.4 percent from the floor. If Earl Barron hadn’t scored 10 points in the last 10 minutes they wouldn’t have had a player reach double figures. The Celtics ended a two-game losing streak thanks as much to the Bucks’ haplessness as to their own heightened defensive intensity.
After losing to the Clippers and 76ers because the starters were still wiping the sleep out of their eyes in the first quarter, the first unit buried the Bucks in a 20-9 first-quarter hole, holding them to 4-for-17 shooting, and it set the tone for the rest of the night.
“It was just a different focus,’’ said Kevin Garnett, who scored just 8 points on 4-for-7 shooting, but like the rest of the starters played low minutes (25) with the game such a blowout. “We don’t like to lose around here. We definitely don’t like multiple losses. We’re working for something that’s bigger than everybody in here, and we had that focus.’’
The Celtics broke the franchise mark set Feb. 27, 1955, when they beat the Milwaukee Hawks, 62-57, in Providence. But coach Doc Rivers credited the circumstances more than his team’s defense.
“I just thought this was one of those scheduled losses for Milwaukee,’’ Rivers said. “This was very similar to the game we had in Phoenix where you play a game and you lose an hour going backwards and they lost another hour with the time change [Saturday night]. You could see they were tired. So we took advantage of that and that was great.
“Our defense was good, but we don’t know how good our defense was tonight.
The Bucks team that mustered just 58 points in a loss to Seattle in 2003 had an excuse. It had just traded its franchise player, Ray Allen, to the SuperSonics for Gary Payton, neither of whom played that night.
“I remember,’’ said Allen. “I was in Seattle and had to fly back to Milwaukee to get my stuff, so I was watching the game.’’
Last night, Allen was hands-on for the Celtics. He scored a game-high 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting, knocking down both of his 3-pointers. But defense was every starter’s focus, and he held his man, John Salmons, scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting.
“That first quarter, we did a pretty good job defensively, making them see everything,’’ said Allen. “We rotated, we contested every shot for the most part. Individually, effort-wise, guys were on the spot, on the ball, and then team-wise with rotations we got to the spots we were supposed to be and it carried over to the second group.’’
The Bucks, fighting for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs and who made a case for themselves Saturday night by blowing out the seventh-place 76ers a day after the 76ers stunned the Celtics in Philadelphia, made no excuses.
“When you have a game where you shoot the ball this bad, you don’t expect to win,’’ Milwaukee’s Earl Boykins said. “You can’t win.’’
The Celtics, who held the Bucks to 22 points at the half and 38 through three quarters, an NBA record, swept the season series.
“I think tonight was just about us and what we needed to do to get back on the right track and get back our momentum going into the latter part of the year,’’ said Garnett.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.