Celtics 98, Bucks 89

Bucks stopped here

Red-hot Celtics stretch winning streak to eight

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / December 9, 2009

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Kevin Garnett is still thinking - and talking - defense first. But Garnett’s offensive production has been extraordinary lately, and it has coincided with the Celtics’ eight-game winning streak.

The combination of Garnett’s two-way play, plus a strong fourth quarter by Rajon Rondo, led the way as Boston earned a 98-89 win over the Milwaukee Bucks last night at TD Garden.

Garnett scored 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting, and is now 50 for 65 (.778) from the field in his last six games.

“Really, I’m not even paying attention to my shot,’’ Garnett said. “I just know it feels good. I feel a lot more explosive. Everything I’m doing in the course of the offense is nothing shiny, nothing glossy. I’m just going out and trying to get chances to score, opportunities to be effective. Other than that my mind-set is more defensive than offensive right now.’’

In the first 15 games of the season, Garnett shot 48 percent from the field, struggling at times as he recovered from offseason knee surgery. Those problems seem to have been resolved.

“He’s shooting extremely well,’’ Rondo said. “It speaks for itself, the numbers don’t lie. He’s putting in the time. He always tells me - he keeps working, he’s never settled.’’

Garnett and the Celtics (17-4) turned up the defensive intensity in the late-going, holding the Bucks scoreless from the field in the final 4:51.

“We buckled down and those are the things we work on in practice,’’ Celtics captain Paul Pierce said. “We always say we want to close the games out.’’

Rondo broke an 86-86 tie with two free throws with 4:42 remaining after being intentionally fouled by Charlie Bell, and the Celtics closed the contest with a 12-3 run.

Rondo, scoreless in the first three quarters, finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 13 assists. Rondo started the final quarter penetrating at full speed, converting two free throws and driving for a score, then setting up two Rasheed Wallace 3-pointers as the Celtics took an 81-75 lead.

But the Celtics, who begin a three-game trip at Washington tomorrow, had to shift into another gear to finish this one off.

Boston’s starters returned with 6:08 left and an 83-80 lead. Andew Bogut (25 points) pulled the Bucks within a point with a third-chancer and lefthand hook.

Then Ersan Ilyasova tied it at 86 with 4:51 remaining on a layup off a Carlos Delfino pass. But that would be the final Bucks field goal.

Rondo converted two free throws, Kendrick Perkins one. Then, Garnett stepped out on a pick and roll, causing a Brandon Jennings turnover, leading to a Rondo jumper that made it 91-86 with 3:36 remaining.

A Perkins deflection led to a Garnett jump hook with three seconds on the shot clock to make it 93-86 with 2:32 to go. After two Ilyasova foul shots, Ray Allen’s 3-pointer gave the Celtics a 96-88 advantage with 1:59 left. Garnett hit a jumper after another Ilyasova foul shot.

But the Celtics struggled at the end of the first half - they were outscored, 8-4, over the final 63 seconds - and late in the third quarter, squandering a 9-point lead in the final 2:58.

The late third-quarter collapse started after Garnett had completed a 4-point possession for a 68-60 lead with 3:45 remaining.

Then, Garnett earned a jump ball as Luke Ridnour went down with what appeared to be a left elbow injury and Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles was hit with a technical foul.

Allen converted his second technical foul shot in 29 seconds.

But Eddie House missed an open jumper after Garnett controlled the tip, and Milwaukee outscored the Celtics, 11-2, Delfino’s banker at the buzzer tying the score, 71-71, after three.

“In my mind we’re nowhere near where we’re going to be,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We are still not a 48-minute team. And, for us to achieve what we want to achieve, we have to become that. Our spurts are longer, and that’s a good sign. My favorite game was the San Antonio game [a 90-83 win]. All the players were upset with the way we played, and we won a game in San Antonio. To me, that’s a team that’s maturing.’’

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