In a tit-for-tat battle that went decided until the game's final two minutes, the Boston Celtics rode the backs of their Hall Of Fame frontcourt to a 96-92 victory over the host Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.
The lead changed 17 times throughout the game, with the final exchange favoring the Celtics at the 2:29 mark in the fourth quarter. The Bucks had multiple opportunities to tie or take the reigns, but the "been there, done that" close out by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who combined to score 14 of the team's final 18 points, cemented the win and dropped the Bucks' record to 3-2 heading into Monday's tilt against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.
Monta Ellis led all scorers with 32 points (11-24 fg, 1-4 3fg, 9-10 ft), 19 of which came in the second half, and 11 in the fourth quarter alone. He added 8 assists and two steals to a stat line that justifiably defined his role for the evening as "alpha dog." Larry Sanders added 10 points (4-7 fg, 2-2 ft), 12 rebounds, and 6 chant-inducing fouls off the bench. It was Sanders' second straight double-double and his fifth straight game scoring 10+ points.
Pierce led the Celtics with 25 points (8-18 fg, 3-7 3fg, 5-7 ft), Kevin Garnett added 18 points (6-10 fg, 6-6 ft), and Rajon Rondo tallied 10 points and 10 assists, extending his 10+ assists consecutive game streak to 30.
Overall, the Bucks owned the paint on offense (16 point advantage), and scored 30 of their 42 first half points from close range thanks to solid pick-and-roll execution and high-energy board crashing. However, Boston's shooting cold front had warmed by the end of the second quarter, as the Celtics rode an 18-2 run bridged between the first and second half to a comfortable position as the game's frontrunner. Boston also bruised their way to 34 free throws, hitting 27 of them.
Milwaukee won the rebounding battle 44-40, including a 16-7 advantage on the offensive glass. Still, the Bucks struggled capitalizing off those second-chance opportunities (7-16, 14 points) and ultimately shot a very unsatisfying 40.2% (including 16.7% on threes) for the game.
The loss drops the Bucks to one game above .500 as they travel to Philadelphia on Monday for a 6 p.m. game against the Sixers. The Celtics will travel to Chicago on Monday to play the Bulls. Tip off is at 7 p.m.