MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- It's been a rough start for the Boston Celtics. They came to Milwaukee on Saturday night looking to recover from a tough loss at home the night before to Philadelphia, and also to avenge a season-opening blowout, also at home, to the Bucks.
And while it may not have been pretty, the Celtics' 96-92 victory could go a long way towards helping a team with a lot of new pieces forge an identity.
"It's a big win for us," said the Celtics' Paul Pierce, who eight of his team-leading 25 points on 3-of-6 shooting in the final quarter. "We haven't been playing well but tonight we grinded it out. Maybe this is just what the doctor ordered."
Pierce was one of five Celtics to score in double-figures Saturday. Kevin Garnett added 18 points while Jason Terry, making a rare start, scored 15 and Rajon Rondo 10.
Jeff Green came off the bench to score 12 with three rebounds and two blocks, a performance that helped Rivers find some potency in his second unit.
"When he plays like that, we're a better team," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said. "He made defensive plays, he made rebounds, a lot of good things."
The teams combined to go 0-for-11 to open the fourth quarter, a span of 8:32 of scoreless basketball snapped by Brandon Bass' layup that made it 68-66 in favor of Milwaukee. The Celtics drew even when Jeff Green hit his free throws after Larry Sanders picked up his fifth foul of the contest.
Milwaukee (3-2) erased a five-point deficit to draw within one, 91-90, on Daniels' jumper with 25.3 seconds to play. Terry hit the back end of a one-and-one with 22.2 seconds left to make it a two-point game.
Milwaukee turned the ball over on the ensuing possession and Pierce hit one of his two free throws after Milwaukee fouled to stop the clock, extending the lead to three with 4.9 left on the clock.
After a Milwaukee timeout, the Bucks inbounded and Jennings was fouled in the backcourt. He hit one of two free throws to cut the deficit to 93-91 but Rondo hit his free throws with 3.5 seconds left and Garnett hit two with .3 seconds left to seal the victory for Boston (3-4).
One of Milwaukee's best players thus far this season had his worst night of the campaign. Mike Dunleavy came into the game third on the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game, but shot 1-for-4 from the field and collected fouls in 14 minutes of action. His only points of the night came midway through the fourth quarter on a goaltending violation by Bass.
Brandon Jennings also had a rough night, scoring just four points on 1-for-11 shooting, but did add five assists and two steals.
With Jennings and Dunleavy out of the equation, the scoring duties fell primarily to Monte Ellis, who overcame another cold start from the field to finish with a team-leading 32 points.
"There are going to be nights like this where I have to score more," Ellis said. "They were playing hard and I was feeling good out there. But it wasn't enough in the end."
Samuel Dalembert made an early splash for the Bucks, scoring nine of his season-high 12 points to help Milwaukee build a slim 22-20 lead after the first quarter.
Milwaukee stretched its lead eight points late in the second on a Brandon Jennings' 3-pointer with 3:38 left in the period and made it a 10-point game when Kevin Garnett was called for his second goaltending violation of the game with 3:17 left.
Boston struggled from the field in the half, hitting just 12 of 33 shots from the field and one of four 3-pointers while being outscored in the paint, 30-14 and trailing 42-39 at the intermission.
NOTES: Terry made his first start of the season, taking the place of Courtney Lee, as Doc Rivers continues to find what he calls "the right mix." Terry started just one game last season while with Dallas. ... Through four games, Sanders is averaging 12.5 points and shooting 67 percent from the field, scoring in double figures in all four games. He reached double figures just three times last season. ... The Celtics hold a 97-92 lead in the all-time series and had won six in a row against Milwaukee, which has won the first meeting between the teams this season. ... Rondo recorded 10 assists for the 30th consecutive game, the third-longest streak of games with 10 or more assists in NBA history.