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Celtics buckle against Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE -- As the fourth quarter progressed with the Celtics failing to hold onto one loose ball after another, coach Jim O'Brien became desperate for some way to vent his frustration. There was strong language. There was the purposeful grasp of a nearby telephone. There was a lot of pacing and head shaking. O'Brien simply could not believe how his team had failed to give itself a chance at a late comeback. And nothing he did or said during timeouts could change that.

After squandering a 10-point first-quarter advantage and trailing by as many as 18 in the third, the Celtics failed to stage one of their vaunted fourth-quarter rallies, losing to the Bucks, 111-103, last night at the Bradley Center. While Milwaukee extended its home winning streak to nine games, Boston had both an overall winning streak and a road winning streak end at three. The loss also pushed the Celtics back to .500 (20-20).

"We just couldn't come up with loose balls in the fourth quarter," said O'Brien. "I thought with a small lineup, we could give them something to think about. But every time there was a long rebound or a loose ball, they came up with it, which hurt our ability to come back."

With 8 minutes 47 seconds left, Ricky Davis brought Boston within 10 points (87-77) when he hit a 3-pointer from the left corner. The basket provided the visitors a glimmer of hope. Davis (33 points) provided an offensive spark for the Celtics off the bench, though his defense -- and that of his teammates -- left much to be desired in O'Brien's mind. The Bucks shot 49 percent from the floor, including 56 percent in the second quarter when they took the lead for good. They can be an explosive team, especially with a bench that includes Desmond Mason and Toni Kukoc.

Milwaukee answered the Davis 3-pointer with a 3-pointer from Kukoc followed by a layup from former Celtic Erick Strickland. That prompted O'Brien to call a timeout, but almost as soon as the Celtics took the court, they lost the ball on a bad pass by Davis.

Strickland ended up at the line and stretched the lead to 17 (94-77) with 7:48 remaining. A reverse layup by Davis capped an 8-2 run and knocked the deficit into single digits with 3:14 remaining, but it proved too little too late. In the final minute, the Celtics would twice close within 6. But again, too little too late.

"It just seemed like the loose balls were bouncing in and out of our hands and they seemed to come up with them," said Paul Pierce (22 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds). "But you can't take anything away from them. They're well-coached. They move the ball well. They're really good shooters.

"What killed us tonight was we couldn't put together the stops that we needed, especially in the fourth quarter. And we turned the ball over way too many times [21]. When you're trying to come back on the road against a talented ball club like the Bucks, who are one of the better offensive teams in the league, it's hard to do."

When Mike James (15 points, 9 assists) hit a 3-pointer to break a 4-4 tie in the first, it sparked a 17-7 run that propelled Boston to its largest lead, 21-11.

The Bucks opened the second quarter with an 11-2 run that gave them their first lead, 31-29. Former Celtic Damon Jones hit a 3-pointer with 7:56 remaining in the second to cap the run. A 3-pointer by Kukoc capped another 11-2 run, this one giving the home team a 9-point lead (46-37). The Celtics would trim the deficit to 4 on an 11-footer from Davis but came no closer and entered halftime trailing, 50-44.

"We did not defend," said O'Brien. "We did not get a good enough consistency with what we had on the court. If you don't defend on the road, you will lose and you should lose."

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