BOSTON -- This was the team we were all waiting to see. The shots were falling, the bench was alive, and there was a real sense that everything was coming together just in time.
But some things are not meant to be, and when Paul Pierce swished a pair of free-throws for career points 20,002 and 20,003, he closed the door on Milwaukee's last chance. One errant half-court pass later, and the only thing left to console the Bucks was a day off, a shooting percentage over .400, and a 1-4 record.
The Bucks refused to go away. Down by nine after a quarter of play, the Bucks put together a strong second quarter to pull even at halftime. Thanks to a strong defensive effort and some good individual performances off the bench, the Celtics were never able to pull away. Even up five with under a minute to go, Boston just couldn't close out Milwaukee. Finally, and perhaps predictably, the less-experienced Bucks made a few key mistakes which cost them the game.
There is little comfort in a valiant defeat, but that is what we have here, in every sense of the term. This was a resilient, passionate, fight-to-the-last man defeat; a David-just-didn't-have-it-in-him defeat.
But no glorifying adjectives or positive spin can change the Truth (pun reluctantly intendend): Milwaukee is 3 games under .500 and has to concern themself with one thing only - beating the Pacers on Friday. Brandon Jennings acknowledged this reality afterward:
Hopefully this is a test for us and see how we need to play every night. We did a lot of good things tonight. Somebody's got to lose.
Carlos Delfino. The box score doesn't do him justice, nor does the play-by-play. Delfino's lay-in down the lane with 10 seconds remaining in regulation was shocking for everyone who witnessed it. It had everyone in my apartment on their feet and brought the TD Garden to it's knees. When the vaunted Celtic defense parted like the Red Sea and Delfino tied the game at 91, anything seemed possible.
While this was certainly Delfino's most important basket, it wasn't his only contribution. His three-pointer in overtime (prior to which he was 0-3) brought the Bucks within one before Paul Pierce sank a pair of free-throws to pass 20,000 career points and take a three-point lead. He was a playmaker the entire game, coming alive when Milwaukee needed him most. The box score will record how he struggled with his shot, but Carlos was key in keeping the game competitive.
Andrew Bogut. Bogut left everything he had on the court in Boston. He banged down low and fought for rebounds. He forced his way into the post and knocked around the Celtics' frontcourt. The lone starter with a positive +/-, Bogut played four-quarters worth of game time and fought for every second of it.
Andrew's aggression is there, and he has clearly identified the moves under the basket that give him the best chance to score. Milwaukee was at its best late last season when just about every possession ran through the Big Aussie, and happily, those days appear close at hand.
Drew Gooden/John Salmons. Like they say, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. Salmons and Gooden came out looking pretty good, but when crunch time arrived, both were sporting warm-ups on the bench. Gooden was hindered by some early foul trouble again, and while Salmons was effective in a few sets, he never got into an offensive groove to justify his staying on the court. Both took steps in the right direction, but still seem out of sync with the rest of the team.
50. It took five games and 50 minutes of total game time in a Bucks uniform before Keyon Dooling, a career .349 shooter from deep, sank a three for Milwaukee. He finished 2-5 from behind the arc. Dooling played his best game of the season Wednesday, so hopefully this was a sign of things to come.
26-27. Free-throws made and attempted for Corey Maggette after tonight. Maggette missed his first as a Buck late in the fourth quarter. A make would have cut the lead to 4, presenting no real different situation than a 5-point deficit. Still, it was a fun streak to watch.
105. An obvious and painful number to take note of, but this was the first game in which Milwaukee surrendered over 100 points. And it took an extra 5 minutes to do it. If you're following along, per-game numbers are on the out as pace-adjusted stats take hold, but such a nice round benchmark has some...emotional value.
Bench. Milwaukee's bench showed up to play tonight, with strong performances coming from Ersan Ilyasova and Keyon Dooling, while Maggette continued to earn trips to the stripe. Milwaukee's bench outscored Boston's 38-19 and those guys provided an energy and execution that almost toppled the Celtics. Jon Brockman played a limited role, but continued to display a great ability to draw offensive fouls, following in the footsteps of his fellow frontcourt-mates.
Aggression. The Bucks attacked Boston's defense with a controlled intensity, for the most part (I'm looking at you, old Drew), and plagued the Celtic's forward rotation with foul trouble. Glen Davis and Jermaine O'Neal both were eventually disqualified, forcing the Celtics to adjust and monkey with some smallball lineups late in the game. With Big Baby knocking down baseline jumpers on seemingly every possession, it was a relief to see him exit.
National Attention. A loss doesn't get people talking about a team, but Milwaukee absolutely showed up to play in their biggest game of the young season. Televised on ESPN in primetime, the Bucks showed the media and NBA fans everywhere that they're up to the challenge before them. When this team plays to potential, victory is just a lucky bounce away.
Key Turnovers. It was mistakes that put an end to Milwaukee's upset big, most notably some critical steals by the Celtics that led to easy points when both teams were trading buckets. Delfino, for all the good he did, committed the cardinal sin of jumping without a plan and had a pass stolen by Paul Pierce late. Rondo picked his pocket earlier, leading to an outlet pass from Pierce and a layup. In a hostile environment in front of a frenzied crowd, Milwaukee's relative inexperience came back to bite them.
Geometry. A couple bad bounces off the rim might have swung this game. A key offensive rebound late in regulation found it's way to Ray Allen for a three that kept the Bucks from extending a lead. A long bounce in overtime allowed Rajon Rondo to extend a possession and keep ahead of Milwaukee in rhythm. Granted, a couple short hops off of missed shots turned into easy tips for Bogut, but the miserably helpless feeling of seeing a ball bounce back to your opponent who just bricked the shot is a sad, sad experience.
Scoreboard, Scoreboard. For all the positives we may take from this game, the end result remains a disappointment. The Bucks are now 1-4, ahead of only lowly Detroit in the Central and could find themselves three games behind Chicago tomorrow. Milwaukee should feel good about their performance against an elite team on the road, but it's all for naught if they can't maintain this level of play and take down Indiana on Friday.