“We’ve got nothing to celebrate,” Jefferson recalled after Boston ended its franchise-record losing streak at 18 games by beating the Milwaukee Bucks 117-97. “We should feel good about it. But don’t run off the court like we won the championship.”
Paul Pierce scored 32 points and Gerald Green had 21 in 20 minutes on Wednesday night to lead the Celtics to their first victory since Jan. 5 and send them into the All-Star break with a sigh of relief. After the break, Boston embarks on a five-game road trip—four of them against teams in playoff position.
“I thought that if we could win this game, it gives us a fighting chance out there. That’s all we want,” coach Doc Rivers said. “The guys are in there taking monkeys off each others’ backs and all that stuff. It’s just a relief to get it done.”
The half-filled house, winnowed by the first major snowstorm of the winter, gave the Celtics a standing ovation for the final minute as they picked up their first victory since Jan. 5. The Celtics won just two of 24 games when Pierce was out with foot and elbow injuries, breaking the franchise record of 13 straight losses and heading for the league record of 24 (23 in one season).
But they took advantage of the Bucks’ own woes, rallying from a 15-point deficit to go ahead in the second quarter and opening a double-digit lead in the third.
“We could have easily ended up in that zone with NBA-record losing streaks,” Pierce said. “We definitely eyed this game. Milwaukee had a lot of pieces missing, so we wanted to take advantage of that.”
Mo Williams scored 31, Charlie Bell had 24 and Brian Skinner scored 13 with 11 rebounds for the Bucks, who lost their fourth straight. Milwaukee is 3-17 since Michael Redd went out with a strained patellar tendon in his left knee.
“Everybody knows” about the Celtics’ streak, Williams said. “You don’t want to be the team that they beat. That’s why it hurts a little more.”
Jefferson scored 17 with 10 rebounds. Wally Szczerbiak returned after missing two games with a sprained right ankle and scored 14; it was the first time Pierce and Szczerbiak both played since a win on Dec. 16 gave the Celtics a five-game winning streak.
“This is not the team that lost 18 in a row,” Bell said. “With Paul, he gives them a whole other element. They’re a much better team. If they didn’t beat us, they were going to beat somebody else. I don’t think they were going to get the record.”
Boston found the perfect opponent in Milwaukee, which is on a bit of a slide itself. Charlie Villanueva was out with an ankle sprain he picked up in Tuesday’s game against Dallas, a game in which Milwaukee got just two free throws in the last 7:05 and blew a 16-point, second-half lead.
Playing back-to-back nights amid mounting injuries—Mo Williams’ shoulder, and Earl Boykins picked up a cut on his right leg that needed stitches in the first half—the Bucks seemed to wear down again. After leading by 13 at the end of the first quarter and as many as 15 in the second, Milwaukee gave up an 18-4 Boston run that turned the Celtics’ 48-37 deficit into a 55-52 lead.
Pierce, Green and Pierce again hit consecutive 3-pointers during a 1:22 span to cut the deficit from 11 to two points, and Pierce hit another 3 in the last 30 seconds to give the Celtics a 58-54 lead. In the second quarter alone, Green scored 16 and Pierce 13, going 4-for-4 and 3-for-4 from 3-point range, respectively; Rajon Rondo had eight assists.
The Celtics piled it on in the third, using a 12-2 run to stretch a two-point lead to 74-62. Pierce had six during the stretch and assisted on Brian Scalabrine’s 3-pointer that put Boston up by 12 with 6:07 left.
The public address announcer thanked fans for braving the storm, which sprinkled two inches on Boston and more than a foot on Western Massachusetts. … Villanueva was in uniform and on the bench because he did not have the proper attire to be scratched from the lineup. … Rondo had 11 assists in all.