The Boston Celtics have been tested early as they defend their NBA championship. At home, however, they’ve yet to fail one of those tests.
With the Milwaukee Bucks in town on Friday night, the Celtics will look to continue their dominance at the TD Banknorth Garden as they seek their third straight win overall.
Boston piled up mostly comfortable victories during its 8-0 start last season, but it hasn’t been easy early in 2008-09. On their recently completed three-game road trip, the Celtics (4-1) struggled in a 95-79 loss to Indiana, but rebounded to earn a tough 103-99 win at Houston.
They fell behind early at Oklahoma City on Wednesday, allowing 29 points in the first quarter, but gave up only 26 in the second and third combined en route to the 96-83 win.
“We’re the defending champions and I think most people are definitely geared up for us, and we’re getting a strong hit when the game starts,” said guard Ray Allen, who’s averaged 23.5 points while shooting 56.3 percent in his last two games. “It’s just a matter of us taking it, absorbing the punches, and then start going on offense.”
That was Boston’s formula in its season opener at home against Cleveland, erasing a seven-point halftime deficit to rally for 90-85 win on Oct. 28. Three nights later, the Celtics held Chicago to 29.8 percent shooting from the field in their other home victory so far.
Opponents averaged 87.3 points as Doc Rivers’ team went 48-7 at home including the playoffs in 2007-08, and only one of the losses came to a team that didn’t qualify for the postseason.
“They can control the game with their defense,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles told his team’s official Web site about the Celtics. “That will be a big key. Can we, because our defense is improving as well, hang in the game and get enough baskets to make in interesting.”
Milwaukee (3-2), which lost a pair in Boston by an average of 19.0 points last season, was one of those teams that failed to reach the playoffs, but is off to a strong start its first season under Skiles.
The Bucks are 2-1 on the road, but their home victory may have been the most impressive, as they beat Washington 112-104 in overtime on Wednesday with their leading scorer on the sidelines.
While Michael Redd (21.3 ppg) could return from an ankle injury on Friday, the Bucks generated enough offense without him against the Wizards, rallying from a 14-point deficit with less than 10 minutes to play in regulation and outscoring Washington 14-6 in the extra session.
“We could have easily just folded that thing up,” Skiles said. “We looked like we were teetering on the edge.”
In Redd’s absence, new Buck Richard Jefferson stepped up with 32 points, while Luke Ridnour returned from injury to add 20 and 11 assists. Ramon Sessions had 22 points and eight assists off the bench.
But the most impressive performance may have come from rookie Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, as the second-round pick from UCLA scored 15 of his 17 points in the final 20 minutes of play and shot 8-of-10 from the field in the game.
While the Bucks’ start has been encouraging, their schedule is about to get a whole lot tougher. Seven of their next eight games are against teams that made the playoffs last season, including five on the road and two against Boston.
The Celtics swept four games against the Bucks last season.