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Celtics 89, Bucks 83

Celtics handle the Bucks

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 7, 2011

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MILWAUKEE — The Celtics continue to create drama by toiling with inferior teams during this stretch of games they should win. They also continue to secure those wins with brilliant play down the stretch.

Last night against the Bucks was no different. Kevin Garnett blocked Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s layup attempt with less than 20 seconds left and Paul Pierce completed a 3-point play to seal a gritty 89-83 win at the Bradley Center.

The Celtics never led by more than 7 points, blew countless chances to build on leads, and allowed the shorthanded Bucks to rally to tie the game with three minutes left. But the Celtics responded with 7 points in the final 2:35, including a go-ahead jumper by Ray Allen and a baseline fadeaway by Garnett.

Ahead, 86-83, Garnett blocked Mbah a Moute’s streaking layup attempt and Rajon Rondo chased down the loose ball, helping the Celtics win their fifth straight game.

Pierce finished with 23 points while Nenad Krstic added 17. Garnett had 14 points and 11 rebounds. Brandon Jennings led Milwaukee with 23 points.

With just nine healthy players, the Celtics were erratic, lacked life, and made silly mistakes throughout the game, but as usual, they were saved by their defense. The Bucks scored 1 point in the final 3:36.

“I told our guys before the game, you had two teams with a hundred injuries,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “They have starters out. We have our whole entire bench out and it was going to be a funky game and someone’s going to have to win it and let it be us. We’re just hanging in and winning games.’’

After missing everything on his first shot as a Celtic, Sasha Pavlovic made a 3-pointer to put the Celtics ahead, 72-65, with 10:20 left. It appeared Boston had finally overcome the pesky Bucks, but Jennings, along with John Salmons, led Milwaukee’s comeback.

Jennings evened the score at 77 when he made an acrobatic lefthanded layup, got fouled, and converted the 3-point play. Boston responded with a 5-0 run, capped by Jeff Green’s 3-pointer, but again couldn’t build on the lead. Carlos Delfino’s 3-pointer tied it at 82 with 3:36 left.

Again, the Celtics were toying with a lesser opponent and risking a costly defeat.

Down the stretch, Rivers inserted Green to replace Krstic and that caused all types of matchup problems. Garnett moved to center and Green filled in at power forward, helping the Celtics spread the floor for Pierce and Allen.

“When we had to get stops, when we had to get plays, we made them,’’ said Garnett, who collected his 23d double-double of the season. “Doc’s a mastermind when it comes to the lineups. Man, I’m telling you, every time I see Jeff Green, I’m more impressed.’’

The Celtics held Milwaukee to 33 percent shooting (12 of 36) in the second half by stuffing the middle and sending two defenders at Jennings, who is more of a scorer than distributor. Boston began the period with a 19-9 run to take a 62-58 lead on a Krstic layup. Krstic scored all 17 of his points in the first three quarters, continuing to emerge as an offensive weapon in his short tenure with the Celtics.

After allowing 10 offensive rebounds and 12 second-chance points in a lackluster first 24 minutes, the Celtics limited the Bucks to two offensive rebounds and no second-chance points.

“I thought we did a better job on our pick-and-roll defense because that’s what they ran the whole game with a lack of a post presence,’’ Pierce said. “So we had to collapse on Brandon Jennings a lot and run their shooters off the 3. Once we did that and rebounded the ball better, we were able to get consecutive stops and make our run.’’

Despite having Saturday off, the Celtics were going to be hard-pressed to have fresh legs because they brought just nine healthy players to Milwaukee. There were three empty seats on the bench, so the remaining bench players had plenty of space to lounge and watch the starters struggle. The Celtics fell behind, 12-4 and 20-10.

Boston signed Carlos Arroyo, who will join the team tomorrow, to relieve Rondo of heavy minutes. The All-Star guard looked slow last night. He committed five of the Celtics’ 11 first-half turnovers, and finished with eight assists and eight turnovers.

The only alternative Rivers had was rookie Avery Bradley, but he couldn’t corral the second unit into any productive stretches. Pavlovic made his debut late in the first quarter and short-armed a 15-foot jumper by 2 feet. The trio of Troy Murphy, Bradley, and Pavlovic were 0 for 3 with 2 points in nearly 19 first-half minutes, placing more pressure on the starters.

Allen remains a fan favorite in Milwaukee, but he looked tired and hobbled last night. He missed five of his first six shots, most of them clanging off the front rim. Pierce and Garnett combined for 21 first-half points.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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