BOSTON - The rebuilding Boston Celtics moved into first place in the woeful Atlantic Division on Tuesday night, but that was the last thing on the minds of the players.
"I don't think we really pay attention to where we are standings-wise," forward Jeff Green said after his 18 points helped the Celtics to a 108-100 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. "I think we just take it game by game and try to get better each game.
"I think we're making progress to getting to where we want to be. There are some kinks we need to work out; I love it. We're getting better each day and I like the way we are correcting our mistakes."
Beating the Bucks for the first time in three tries this season, the Celtics, who are supposed to be chasing lottery picks, improved to 8-12. The .400 winning percentage is ahead of the 6-10 Toronto Raptors, who were to play Golden State in a later game.
"We're getting better every day," said guard Jordan Crawford, who scored 15 of his season-high 25 points in the fourth quarter. "Sometimes off wins we kind of get complacent, forget what it takes to win. We gotta learn to stay focused, pull out these wins, grind them out."
The Celtics, who trailed only 2-0 and 4-2 and led by as many as 15 before holding off charge after charge, have won four of their last six games. The first two times they played the Bucks, who have two of their three wins against Boston, the Celtics failed to hold double-digit leads. Way back on Nov. 1, it was a 20-point lead.
"I thought we made shots," Boston's first-year coach, Brad Stevens, said when asked about the difference. "It's funny how you evaluate the game sometimes; it's easy to say that we were way better tonight, but bottom line we made shots that we missed the other (Saturday) ) night (in Milwaukee)."
The Celtics were 4-for-19 from 3-point range in Milwaukee Saturday. Tuesday, they hit their first four and went on to go 11-for-24. Crawford and fellow guard Avery Bradley combined to go 7-for-13 from behind the arc. In the fourth quarter, Crawford, Bradley and guard Courtney Lee went 10-for-11 from the floor overall.
Crawford was the key to the whole night, Green saying, "He's cold-blooded. He's been doing it his whole career."
"I don't know how many points he had but he carried the load for a little bit," said Milwaukee center John Henson. "You know, it's the NVA, guys can do that. Unfortunately, we got a team that can do that."
The Bucks, who ended an 11-game losing streak by beating Boston Saturday, have lost 12 of their last 13 to fall to 3-14.
"The bottom line is they did make plays down the stretch and some timely shots," said Bucks coach Larry Drew. "(Forward Jared) Sullinger hit one down the stretch. Crawford hit one; he was about three feet behind the 3-point line."
Sullinger, who had 12 points and eight rebounds, hit a jumper with the shot clock expiring and his team up three in the final minute.
Forward Brandon Bass had 16 points and nine rebounds as the Celtics had six players in double figures.
Guards O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight, who killed the Celtics Saturday night, led the Bucks, who lost despite going 8-for-18 from 3-point range, with 19 and 15 points, respectively; but combined to go 11-for-27 from the floor.
Every time the Bucks, who lost despite going 8-for-18 on threes, made a move, the Celtics had an answer. Boston led by seven at halftime and by nine 18 seconds into the second half, but Milwaukee would not go away. Milwaukee's lead was down to two points when Green nailed a pair of 3-pointers to make it 67-59. The Boston lead was six entering the fourth quarter.
NOTES: G Courtney Lee, who missed two games with a sore left knee, returned for Boston (he had 11 points off the bench), but rookie F/C Kelly Olynyk remains out with an ankle sprain. Olynyk was one of three nominees for the Eastern Conference rookie of the month for December but the honor went to Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams. ... F Ersan Ilyasova (thumb, hamstring) returned for the Bucks (seven points, seven rebounds), who were still missing F Larry Sanders (thumb) and F Caron Butler (shoulder). ... Milwaukee started a run of four games in five nights, returning home for the Detroit Pistons Wednesday, then visiting the Washington Wizards Friday and finally hosting the Brooklyn Nets Saturday night. The Celtics host the Denver Nuggets Friday night. ... Celtics F Gerald Wallace brought his teammates off the bench with a flying slam down the lane in the second quarter. ... F/C John Henson made his second straight start for the Bucks.