BOSTON - Brandon Bass (16 points) was a perfect 4-for-4 and scored nine points in the third quarter, in which the Boston Celtics outscored the Milwaukee Bucks 27-13, and Kevin Garnett (25 points, 10 rebounds) made his free throws to stave off a late Bucks comeback as the C's captured a 102-96 win on Wednesday night at TD Garden.
"I'm just glad we're back at .500," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, whose team has now won two straight after losing five in a row. " And we won the first two after the break and both games were grind games. Our guys are buying into that; they're starting to understand this is a grind second-half. We didn't play well in the first half. We ended the half with making two threes, to close out the half. It got us in reach and then we played well. We stuck in it. We stuck together, stayed in it, and that's what we have to do."
The Celtics (17-17) opened the third quarter on a 17-6 run and were a consistent 13-of-24 from the field (54.2 percent shooting). Milwaukee (14-21), meanwhile, couldn't find its shot and was made 5-of-22 shots collectively (22.7 percent) in the quarter. However, a late surge by the Bucks brought them within two points with 19 seconds left, but the Celtics made their free throws to preserve the victory.
"The last minute of the first half we kind of made some foolish plays," said Bucks head coach Scott Skiles. "Both halves they just got after us and we didn't have that much response. In the first half we weathered OK, came back and played really well. Third and fourth quarter, we didn't play well. We tried to scramble at the end and we made it interesting, but generally you are not going to beat them in that type of game."
Led by six points rom Ray Allen (2-or-2 from long distance), the Celtics jumped out to a 10-3 lead at the nine minute mark. The Bucks were held to just one field goal -- a three from Carlos Delfino - through the 7:20 mark, when Ersan Ilyasova (25 points, 10 rebounds) drilled a three. Boston led 17-13 with 4:22 left, but Milwaukee closed out the quarter on a 12-8 run to tie the game. Rajon Rondo -- who finished with a triple-double (15 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) -- led the Celtics with eight first-quarter points while Ilyasova scored 10 in the frame.
"What I was impressed with was more the second half than the first," Rivers said about Rondo. "The first half we scored points, but the second half was the first time in a while where he and the whole team, he just kept calling different sets and we ran our stuff to score instead of just trying to play out of random [sets] and figure it out."
Using a 6-2 run to open the second, the Bucks grabbed a 31-27 lead with 9:04 left before halftime and built their lead up to 50-43 late in the quarter. Drew Gooden (23 points, 8 rebounds) had a big impact in the quarter, scoring 10 and finishing the half with a game-leading 16 points. Thanks to a coast-to-coast layup from Rondo and a Keyon Dooling three at the buzzer, the C's trimmed the deficit to four points, 54-50, at the break.
After the Celtics' dominant third quarter, the starters fumbled away the lead in the final minutes. Brandon Jennings (six points), the Bucks' leading scorer at 18.2 points per game, was held scoreless through the first 46 and a half minutes before finally draining a three with 1:31 left. After a steal, Jennings hit another three, bringing Milwaukee within five at 98-93 with 1:19 to go.
Jennings almost made it three consecutive threes after a missed Celtics shot, but he was off target. Ilyasova got the miss and was fouled, making one of two shots at the charity stripe. After another Celtics failed possession, Ilyasova converted on a second-chance bucket to bring the Bucks within two, 98-96, with 19 ticks to play.
Following a Bucks timeout, Garnett was fouled with 14.4 second left and made both free throws, giving the Celts some breathing room and a 100-96 lead. Jennings had a clean look for a layup on the next possession but missed, and after the Bucks got the rebound, Jennings moved to the corner, where he missed a critical three. Garnett got the board, was fouled and made his final two free throws to stomp out the rally.
Boston will have Thursday off before hosting the New Jersey Nets on Friday night.