LAS VEGAS- Friday’s late afternoon game pitting the Celtics against the Bucks could be construed as a grudge match of sorts, with the Celtics former lead assistant coach, Tony Brown, now an assistant with Milwaukee facing his former team and Armond Hill, the man who was promoted to take Brown’s place. Frankly, such a description would correctly characterize the level of competition of the Vegas Summer League. Yes, there’s probably something there worth looking out for, but not that much.
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The Celts gave starting point guard- in the summer and for the regular season barring any surprise changes- Rajon Rondo the game off, opting to give second round pick Gabe Puitt more time at point guard. Pruitt was thought to be on the bubble with his chances of making the club out of training camp, and the C’s may be unsure if both the rookie and second year guard Allan Ray each deserve a roster spot. Pruitt proceeded to have what was easily his strongest game yet, scoring 14 points and 3 assists. Pruitt’s effort gave the Celt’s an 84-76 victory, bringing their summer league record to 3-1.
Despite the lack of any well-known players on the Bucks’ squad, Hill was quite pleased with the win. "It’s a good victory because we were down one guy with Rondo going out and it gave Gabe a chance to see what he could do at the point. And I thought he did a helluva job," Hill said. "I asked him what he had left, he said he was OK and I thought he played big, especially in the fourth quarter."
In the first half, the Celtics held their own when trying to score, but showed a lack of desire on the defensive end without the long arms of Rondo on the floor. The Bucks had a whopping six players on their roster with prior NBA experience including summer league legend Billy Thomas and the ever present Randy Livinston (though he did not play due to injury). They took advantage of the defensive gaps left by the Celtics to hold a 46-42 halftime lead, shooting just under 59%.
Coming out of the half, the Celtics showed a heightened commitment on the other end of the floor, having no doubt been scolded by Hill in the makeshift locker rooms here at the Cox Pavillion at UNLV. At the same time, the Celtics, who had shot 56% at the half, lost their shooting touch, and the game visibly slowed down. But Pruitt started to shine in the fourth, scoring 10 points, including a fall away 3-point banker as the shot clock expired and a monstrous left-handed dunk.
Pruitt’s slammer was the highlight of the game for Hill. "When he drove to the basket and dunked that one, that, to me, it took him to another level of aggression. Because that’s what we wanted. We wanted him to be aggressive and when he saw the opportunity to go, it was terrific because there was a guy [open] all the way in the corner but he took it all the way."
With 2:12 left in the final quarter, the Bucks tied the score at 76 after the Celtics had held a 9-point lead, but Glen Davis (team leading 16 points-9 rebounds) found Ray in the corner for a jumper. On the following possession, Pruitt blocked a shot and went in for an uncontested layup. After that, there were a number of trips to the free throw line and it was over.
Rondo’s absence had nothing to do with any injuries, according to Hill. "He’s fine. We wanted to see some guys and I wanted him to sit next to me because I kept asking him what does he see. ‘What do you see? What haven’t we run? What haven’t we played?’ So he’s sitting there with coaches eyes and I thought he was terrific. All the answers he was giving me, what was going on, what wasn’t going on. And that’s what he has to do as a point guard when he gets back home. He was terrific. He had a great game."
After his not quite but close to prime time game, Pruitt was pretty happy, too. "They gave me a chance today to show what I can do and I had to take advantage of it. You don’t get too many chances in this league so I just tried to stay poised and keep the guys going, get the ball to the guys at the right time, doing things that worked for us.
"Once I get more experience and get more and more game time, I get more and more comfortable, the game kind of comes naturally to me. They gave me a chance and I just have to keep it up."
Leon Powe had 11 points and 9 boards, though he was a bit quieter than he’s been in past games. Gerald Green had 8 points on 3 for 12 shooting and Ray chipped in with 14 points. Brandon Wallace had 6 points and 9 rebounds, including a very loud putback on a missed Gerald Green jumper in the first. David Noel led the Bucks with 18 points.
Watching the game courtside was Celtics’ Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge as well as his good friend, Minnesota Timberwolves head honcho and Celtics’ legend Kevin McHale. They watched the first half separately but sat together for the third and fourth quarters, likely discussing, among other things, their distaste for Wally Szzcerbiak’s gimpy knees. Left out of the conversation was probably Kevin Garnett, unless the Big Ticket changed his mind regarding his reluctance to come to Boston, which seems about as unlikely as Brandon Wallace making the All Star game this season. The Brain Doctor, Jon Niednagel was on hand just in case the pair had any questions.