Tenacious defense makes up for Bucks’ shooting woes in win over Celtics
MILWAUKEE This is how games are won in the National Basketball Association in late May and June.
Although the Milwaukee Bucks shot a chilly 32.6 percent from the floor, they managed to put forth one of their better defensive efforts of the season to hold off the defending-champion Boston Celtics in the fourth quarter.
The result was a satisfying, 86-77 victory Sunday afternoon before a near-sellout at the Bradley Center.
It was blue-collar, playoff basketball.
“We haven’t shot 32 percent and won a game before,” said Bucks coach Scott Skiles. “But we’ve had some games where our defense has kept us in it. But this is an example of often times what happens in a playoff-type game. Neither team shoots the ball well and it just comes down to playing that type of defense somehow making plays that you need to make at the end of the game.”
Skiles has preached defense all season and has built his system around it. When injuries occur—as they have often for the Bucks all season long—and the offense is sputtering, defense can help put a team over the top.
Case in point was Sunday’s game.
“That was the key to this win, on the defensive end,” said Bucks guard Charlie Bell, whose only basket in the contest was a game-clinching three-pointer that gave Milwaukee a seven-point lead with 48 seconds left. “It was just a matter of wanting it more. We were a desperate team in need of a win. We made them work for just about everything. I’m pretty sure they’re going to say they didn’t get anything easy.”
Forward Charlie Villanueva scored 11 of his team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter before fouling out with 4 minutes left. Richard Jefferson added 17 points and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was active on both ends of the floor and scored 15 points. The Bucks got the foul line 27 times and made 24 (88.9 percent).
But the more telling numbers were on the Boston side of the ledger as the Celtics shot 37.7 percent and scored 24 points under their season average. Boston made 1 of 12 three-point shots and turned the ball over 25 times leading to 27 Milwaukee points.
Center Kendrick Perkins led Boston with 26 points and 12 rebounds but Ray Allen, hounded by Mbah a Moute, was limited to eight points on 2-of-11 shooting. Paul Pierce scored 15 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
It all added up to a playoff-type victory for the Bucks.
“It’s also why (the Celtics) win in the playoffs,” said Jefferson, who knows a little bit about playoff basketball. “They win these type games. If you look at San Antonio or Boston and the other teams who have success in the playoffs—Detroit—they win these, grind-it-out, ugly games because they always depend on their defense day in and day out.
“We’re pretty confident we can (win these games). It’s just making our defense as consistent as it was tonight. We know we can win shooting under 40 percent. It just takes a complete effort from everyone on the defensive end.”
The game was tied at halftime and the Bucks took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter. Three baskets and two free throws by Villanueva helped the Bucks extend their lead to 75-68 with 6:40 left. Villanueva later took a nice pass from Luke Ridnour for a layup and three-point play that gave the Bucks an 80-69 lead with 4:42 remaining. Perkins scored the next eight points before a free throw and three-pointer by Bell put Milwaukee ahead, 84-77 with 48.5 seconds left.
“(The defense) was really good,” said Mbah a Moute. “We held them under 38 percent. We shot 30-something as well but I felt like our defense kept us in the game. This means a lot. It was a big game. If we play defense like we did tonight every night, we’ll always give ourselves a chance to win.”
Said Bell: “I think we deserved to win.”