MILWAUKEE A fast start, a forgettable finish.
Boston (9-8) led by as many as 17 points in the first half, only to see that early dominance go to waste as the Milwaukee Bucks rallied for a 91-88 win.
A 3-pointer by Brandon Jennings with 24 seconds to play put the Bucks ahead 90-88, and a free throw by Larry Sanders proved to be the game's final point of the night. Jennings had 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting.
Boston had multiple chances to force overtime, but both Paul Pierce and Jason Terry's 3-point attempts hit the back of the rim before rolling out. They finished with 19 and 15 points, respectively. Terry also had a game-high 11 assists.
Seconds into the fourth quarter, the Bucks got back-to-back baskets from Luc Mbah a Moute, who was seeing his first action of the season, that gave Milwaukee a four-point lead which was their largest of the game at that point.
The first couple of minutes had the C's looking like a team on the verge of unraveling while Milwaukee's confidence only grew as their lead increased.
Milwaukee led by as many as six in the fourth, but the Celtics roared back and cut the Bucks lead to just a single point on a dunk by Kevin Garnett.
A Bucks turnover put the ball back in the C's hands.
That's all Paul Pierce needed as he canned a short jumper that put the Celtics back on top.
From there, the two teams treated the lead like a ping-pong ball with neither team gaining any type of significant leverage or control.
The game's ending didn't seem likely considering how Boston controlled the first five or six minutes.
The Celtics looked very much in the mood for another blowout win as they opened the game with a 17-2 run.
But then Kevin Garnett took a break, and from there we saw once again a breakdown in the Celtics defense.
Knowing how the C's go into their offensive funks most nights when Garnett leaves the floor, there was sense that the game was shifting away from Boston's defense fueling their offense.
Milwaukee continued to chip away at the Celtics lead with an improved effort on the boards which led to second-chance opportunities, and of course a slew of timely shots from their backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings who had nine and 10 points, respectively, at the half.
The Bucks also got a huge lift from Ersan Ilyasova who hasn't been nearly as effective this season as he was a year ago.
Making an impact was not an issue on Saturday with him scoring 11 first-half points to lead all Bucks scorers. He finished with 17 points.
Boston was getting a nice boost from its bench as Jeff Green had 11 points for the Celtics, a similarly strong first-half performance akin to what he did when he tallied a season-high 19 points against Portland on Friday night. He had another solid night offensively for the Celtics, finishing with 18 points.
Even with all those contributions, many of which came in the first half, all the Celtics had to show for it was a measly 48-47 halftime lead after having led by as many as 17 points.
Milwaukee eventually took the lead, 51-50, on a lay-up by Ellis with 10:29 to play in the third.
But Boston regained the lead moments later as they tried to fend off a slew of mini-runs by the Bucks which enabled to go into the fourth tied at 69.