Boston - The Celtics came into Friday night's game tied with Miami at 34-41. Even though the Heat own the tie-breaker, with a C's win, they could have sole possession of the eighth seed in their quest to make the postseason. Instead the Bucks played spoiler and gave themselves a two-and-a half game lead as the sixth seed by grabbing a 110-101 victory at the TD Garden.
Milwaukee, led by O.J. Mayo and his 24 points had snapped a 12-game road losing streak. Eran Ilyasova finished with 17 points, and Khris Middleton added 13 points and 7 rebounds in the win that ended with seven Buck players in double-figures.
Isaiah Thomas finished with a team-high 23 points and six assists. Jonas Jerebko and Avery Bradley added 17-points a piece, while Brandon Bass chipped in with 12 points in the C's loss. Boston now drops a half-game behind Miami for the final playoff spot with six games remaining.
The day began with three-games separating four teams for the final three-spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. By early afternoon, news broke that a metatarsal-stress fracture in Jared Sullinger's left foot had fully healed and the forward would make a surprise return after missing the last 24-games and initially being shut down for the season.
Instead the awaited return of the third-year forward resulted in three-minutes of action off the bench at the end of the third quarter, with no points on two-shot attempts and one rebound.
"Just a little late on things, but I felt good overall," said Sullinger, who was the team's leading scorer and rebounder before he went down.
The Celtics lead 52-50 at intermission, before the Bucks went on an 18-2 run to outscore the home team 36-23 in the third quarter. Once Milwaukee went ahead 57-56, they never looked back as they took a 86-75 lead into the final frame. Boston cut the lead to four to begin the fourth quarter, the closest they ever got to tying the game. With 10 minutes left the Bucks pushed their lead to eight, 90-82 and the C's only got within six the rest of the way.
"We just weren't aggressive on the defensive end and we just weren't playing hard enough in the third quarter," said Bradley. "They were really getting whatever they wanted."
The C's, who average about nine turnovers a game, finished with 16 turnovers against the Bucks. They simply stop moving and taking care of the ball in the second half and forcing up unnecessary shots (especially three-balls). The difference could be noted in Milwaukee's assist advantage that ended up being 31-19, which lead to 53-percent shooting versus the Celtics 44-percent on the night.
Brad Stevens will have little time to regroup when he and the C's travel north of the boarder on Saturday to take on the Toronto Raptors (45-31), who also lost on Friday to the Brooklyn Nets. Tip-off will begin at 7:30 EST.
The Bucks are now 38-38 and will meet the Celtics again on the final day of the regular season (April 15) in Milwaukee. Should be interesting for both teams' playoff positioning.
Congrats to Avery Bradley, who before the game was given the Red Auerbach award. Each year a Celtics player is chosen who best exemplifies the spirit of what it means to be a Celtic on and off the court.
"It's amazing," Bradley said of winning the award. "Just his name being a part of it. I'm truly blessed and I'm very thankful for my teammates, the coaches, everybody. It's an honor for me to win that award. I'm just very thankful, honestly."
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