Bucks-Celtics Preview

The Associated Press

Defense certainly is a focal point for the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. It's a matter of execution that's been a problem at times.

After Boston's debut didn't go as well as it hoped, visiting Milwaukee looks to get its season off to a better start while avoiding a seventh straight loss in the series Friday night.

The Celtics were the NBA's second-best defensive team last season, giving up an average of 89.3 points, before coming within one victory of winning the Eastern Conference title.

They failed to carry over that defensive success into this season's opener Tuesday, falling 120-107 to reigning NBA champion Miami in a rematch of their seven-game conference finals series.

The points Boston gave up tied its most allowed in a regular-season game since a 127-121 loss to Chicago on March 17, 2009.

"That's not who we are," said Paul Pierce, who scored a team-high 23 points. "The way we defended (Tuesday), we're not going to be a team that's going to give up 120 points. We've got to establish our identity and who we are."

That's exactly what Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles is attempting to do with a squad that ranked 22nd in the league last season allowing 98.7 points per game.

Skiles said the Bucks didn't have the personnel to fully execute his approach last season, and Milwaukee finished four games out of a playoff spot in the East at 31-35.

With the additions of Samuel Dalembert and Joel Przybilla, the Bucks have six players at least 6-foot-10 to clog the paint.

"The real challenge is we've had a couple of years in a row where we didn't buy into our defensive system," Skiles said. "That's the real challenge, getting guys to buy in on that on the floor, give the effort, focus and concentrate as necessary to be a good defensive team."

Milwaukee has held Boston below 90 points in three of the past five meetings but has scored an average of just 80.0 in that span. The Bucks' losing streak in the series reached six games April 26, when Rajon Rondo went scoreless but had 15 assists as the Celtics won 87-74 in a defensive struggle.

Each team, though, has the potential to put plenty of points on the board Friday.

Rondo scored 20 and added 13 assists - his 25th straight regular-season game with at least 10 - and Leandro Barbosa finished with 16 points in 16 minutes off the bench Tuesday.

Coach Doc Rivers said the offseason addition of Barbosa will help in situations when quick points are needed.

"If you get in a scoring contest and Barbosa's on the floor, you're going to feel pretty good about it," Rivers said of the former Sixth Man of the Year.

The backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis provides the Bucks' most prominent scorers. Jennings averaged a career-high 19.1 points in 2011-12 while Ellis scored 20.4 per game, though his average dipped to 17.6 in 21 games with Milwaukee after being acquired from Golden State for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson on March 13.

"Having a (full training) camp together and getting to know each other a little better should be very helpful," Skiles said.

Ellis knows Milwaukee, which has dropped five straight season openers, has much to improve in order to be considered a serious contender in the East like the Celtics.

"We're not like the Miamis, the Bostons and all those great teams," Ellis said. "We got to prepare differently."

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