Celtics able to hold on
Bucks make run despite absences
There remain lapses and lackadaisical stretches to eliminate if the Celtics are to become true competitors in the Eastern Conference. They looked unstoppable at times last night against the Milwaukee Bucks, then found themselves looking to survive.
What should have been an easy victory was the latest example of why the Celtics are maddeningly inconsistent. Rajon Rondo had 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists for his 16th career triple-double in a 102-96 win at TD Garden as the Celtics got back to .500 (17-17).
The Celtics led, 98-83, with 2:56 left before the Bucks rolled off 13 consecutive points. Kevin Garnett clinched the result by sinking four free throws, completing another stellar effort with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Chris Wilcox added 7 points and 13 rebounds.
Against a team missing three key players - Andrew Bogut, Stephen Jackson, and Luc Mbah a Moute - the Celtics were expected to coast, and they did until the frantic final two minutes.
“You’ve got to be consistent and carry it through,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “Hell, I’m worried now we have a day off. We may forget.
“[The final two minutes are] something I’ll look at on film and it will ruin my day because the day was going very well. A couple of bad turnovers.’’
Rondo’s floor generalship sparked a 25-6 run as the Bucks were held to 13 third-quarter points. Rondo scored just 2 points in the second half, but added nine assists and eight rebounds for his third triple-double of the season.
He attempted 11 shots in the first half, after which the Celtics trailed by 4 (54-50). He took two in the second half and Boston outscored Milwaukee by 10.
“I was just trying to focus defensively tonight, honestly, and let the offense come to me,’’ Rondo said. “I didn’t want to force anything. But I got pretty much all easy layups. The guys set some great picks for me, and it led to that.’’
Garnett is averaging 22 points and 10.3 rebounds in three games since returning from a two-game absence to attend to a family matter. He again played with high energy, possibly ignited by a second-quarter dust-up with Bucks forward Larry Sanders, who made contact with Garnett as he attempted to respond to trash talk as a timeout was called.
Officials immediately stepped in and both players were called for technicals, but it definitely inspired Garnett.
“I don’t need much motivation man,’’ he said. “Sometimes you need a little swift kick. I thought that little tech shook up the dog house, gave me a little energy. I’m just trying to give my team an edge. Going through some personal problems, but I’m good, I’m back.’’
The Bucks led, 58-52, with 9:31 left in the third quarter, before the Celtics clamped down defensively and began hitting midrange jumpers, especially Garnett and Brandon Bass, who combined for 13 points in a 25-6 run for a 77-64 lead.
The surge was stunning considering the Celtics were lethargic for the first two quarters. They had been ragged and a step slow, allowing the Bucks to crash the offensive boards and take open midrange jumpers.
The biggest beneficiary was Drew Gooden, who played for Rivers in Orlando. Gooden finished with 23 points, 16 in the first half. Ersan Ilyasova, who had been averaging 14.8 points and 11 rebounds in February, finished with 25 and 10. But they were the only Bucks to establish offensive rhythm. Milwaukee shot just 34 percent in the second half, and other than Gooden and Ilyasova, the Bucks were 8 for 33 for 20 points after the break.
Milwaukee led, 54-45, in the waning seconds of the first half before Rondo scored on a layup and Keyon Dooling drained a 3-pointer off a steal, giving the Celtics much-needed momentum heading into the half. It sparked a surge to begin the third quarter, and the Celtics would lead for the final 18 minutes.
“I’m glad we’re back to .500,’’ Rivers said. “We’ve won the first two after the break and both games were grind games. Our guys are buying into that. They are starting to understand this is a grind second half. We didn’t play well in the first half. We stuck in it and stayed in it and that’s what we have to do.’’