Bucks 86, Celtics 84

Celtics misfire in fourth

Late breakdowns are costly vs. Bucks

Kevin Garnett hits the floor after fouling the Bucks’ Ersan Ilyasova in the second half. Kevin Garnett hits the floor after fouling the Bucks’ Ersan Ilyasova in the second half. (Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press)
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 10, 2010

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MILWAUKEE - Those mental lapses, silly mistakes, and defensive letdowns are why the Celtics sit in third place in the Eastern Conference and why they collapsed late in the fourth quarter last night at the Bradley Center, dropping another close decision.

In a potential first-round playoff series preview, a 14-2 Milwaukee run put the Celtics in a 7-point hole with less than three minutes left, and not even stellar defense could save them. Paul Pierce’s attempt to send the game into overtime rolled off the rim at the buzzer and the Celtics watched their four-game winning streak disappear with an 86-84 loss.

The Bucks didn’t score over the final 2:42, but the Celtics could only manage two baskets in that span and allowed Milwaukee to drain the clock with two critical offensive rebounds. The Bucks smartly fouled Pierce with 3.9 seconds left because they had a foul to give, limiting Doc Rivers’s play calling.

Pierce caught a pass from Rajon Rondo, dribbled to the right, and fired an elbow jumper that missed, ruining what would have been another impressive rally. But it should not have come to that point.

“We have to do a better job of buckling down in the fourth quarter with the team up 4 or 6 and try to put them away,’’ said Pierce, who did not score in the fourth quarter. “This was a possession by possession game when it came down to it. They made the necessary stops and necessary plays they needed down the stretch.’’

Brandon Jennings danced into the key and finished with a pretty finger roll for an 86-79 lead with less than three minutes left, completing a stunning four-minute run by the Bucks.

Staggered, the Celtics responded with a Rondo 3-point play and then got a stop. But Ersan Ilyasova beat Kevin Garnett to a missed Jennings jumper, and the Bucks squeezed nearly 45 seconds off the clock without scoring. Kendrick Perkins then committed an illegal pick with seven seconds left on the 24-second clock, wasting another chance for the Celtics to rally.

Following another defensive stop, Garnett dropped a 20-footer with 53.2 seconds left to bring the Celtics within 86-84, but Andrew Bogut tipped a miss to Jennings for another offensive rebound, and the Celtics didn’t get the ball back until nine seconds remained.

It was a difficult game for the Celtics to digest because Milwaukee did barely enough to win. Pierce missed all four of his shots in the final period, while Ray Allen finished with zero field goals and just 3 points.

“The only thing I told my guys I was disappointed in was that we went through a game with Ray Allen and he only got three shots,’’ Rivers said. “I thought all of the little plays were going to be the difference in the game, loose balls and offensive rebounds. I thought they won that battle.’’

The Bucks are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference. If the teams meet in the first round of the playoffs, the Celtics have to find a way to contain Bogut, who finished with 25 points and 17 rebounds. In two games against Boston this season, the Australian has 50 points and 31 rebounds. Perkins, assigned to Bogut most of the game, tallied 6 points and five rebounds.

More inexcusable was allowing Carlos Delfino to drain five 3-pointers and score 19 points, most of his shots uncontested.

Milwaukee wanted a physical halfcourt game and the Celtics didn’t get enough stops to speed up the pace. When they did, they enjoyed success.

Rondo sparked a mini-run with a spinning layup and free throw for a 77-72 lead with 5:58 left. But as has been their pattern this season, the Celtics were unable to deliver the knockout punch.

“I’m mad as [expletive] we lost,’’ Garnett said. “We had so many chances to win that game. But they came up with most of the big plays. I thought we had the game pretty much intact and under control and it comes down to trying to get rebounds.’’

The fourth quarter became even more heated when Glen Davis fouled Jennings hard on a breakaway layup. Davis swatted the ball but the momentum from his 289-pound body carried into the 169-pound Jennings, who tumbled to the floor. The players had to be separated.

Jennings was quiet for most of the first half but responded with 5 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 13.

“Everybody’s confidence is real high right now,’’ he said. “A lot of people doubted us at the beginning of the season and had us almost picked last. We’re here too, you know. We’re fighting for a spot in the playoffs, so don’t forget about us.’’

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