Bucks bow to Celtics in finale, brace for Bulls in playoffs
MILWAUKEE — While the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics closed their regular-season finale with seldom-used reserves, all eyes were on a game 90 miles away in Chicago.
Minutes after the Celtics put the finishing touches on a 105-100 victory over the Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Chicago Bulls held off the reserves of the Atlanta Hawks to lock up the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Milwaukee will now open the playoffs Saturday at 6 p.m. CT against Chicago at the United Center.
"We had no control over the other games so you just have to go out there and get better," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "We felt we got better, nobody got hurt and now we can focus on one opponent. That’s Chicago."
It was a meaningless game for the Bucks and Celtics, which meant both teams rested players and managed minutes in order to prepare for the playoffs. Milwaukee didn’t dress key reserves Jared Dudley and Jerryd Bayless, while Boston sat Avery Bradley with a quad injury and rested leading scorer Isaiah Thomas.
Down one after three quarters, Milwaukee’s starters sat the entire fourth quarter.
The Bucks closed the game with Jorge Gutierrez, Tyler Ennis, O.J. Mayo, Johnny O’Bryant and Miles Plumlee, while the Celtics had the likes of Gigi Datome, Jonas Jerebko and James Young on the court.
"We wanted the bench to get as much playing time as possible in tonight’s game," Kidd said. "Give our starters some work, but there were going to play a little in the third and that was it. We wanted them to get work."
An improbable game-winning shot by former Marquette star Jae Crowder gave Boston a 95-93 victory over Toronto on Tuesday. That meant all the Bulls had to do Wednesday was beat the Hawks or have the Raptors lose to the Hornets. Toronto took care of business against Charlotte, leaving Chicago needing a win to get the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Playing their starters, the top-seeded Hawks turned a seven-point halftime lead into an 18-point third-quarter advantage on the Bulls. With point guard Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson out with injuries, there was a point Wednesday in which Milwaukee may have thought it was going to face Toronto in the first round.
The Bulls used a 17-2 run to get back in the game. Meanwhile, Atlanta pulled its starters during the third quarter and closed with a lineup filled with seldom-used reserves.
"Toronto would have been fine, but Chicago is the team we got," Bucks center John Henson said. "That’s the tougher team, in my opinion. We will have to strap it up and get ready to go."
Milwaukee learned Chicago was its opponent as it returned to the locker room after spending close to 20 minutes tossing autographed basketballs into the crowd as part of fan-appreciation night.
While nobody in the Bucks locker room would come out and say it, a matchup with the Raptors would have been preferred for a variety of reasons.
Toronto closed the season 27-26 after starting the year 22-6, while Chicago is an experienced playoff team getting healthy at the right time. Factor in the way Bulls fans travel to Milwaukee and it is easy to see why the Raptors would have been a better matchup.
"I mean it is what it is," Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova said. "From this point, I think we reached our goal. Like when we started training camp, it was always ‘be positive, playoff basketball,’ and now we’re here. Now everything from this point is all about us, the way we played all season long.
"Playing against Chicago is not (going) to be easy, we’re really close to them, they’re close to us. Fans are going to be the same as always. Like I said before, it’s up to us. We played that way all season. We have (a) chance, and obviously they will use home advantage. It’s all about stealing one there, and you never know what’s going to happen."
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be at 7 p.m CT on Monday in Chicago. Milwaukee will host Game 3 on April 23 at 7 p.m. CT and Game 4 at 4:30 p.m. CT on April 25.
If necessary, Game 5 will be played in Chicago on April 27, Game 6 in Milwaukee on April 30 and Game 7 in Chicago on May 2.
"So important for our fans to be out there supporting," Henson said. "Buy the tickets, man. I’m going to buy some tickets for fans. We don’t want to play four road games."
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