MILWAUKEE — Paul Pierce scored 23 points and Kevin Garnett added 14 points and 11 rebounds, lifting the Boston Celtics over the Milwaukee Bucks, 89-83 on Sunday night for their fifth straight win.
The Celtics (46-15) held Milwaukee without a field goal in the final 3½ minutes, proving they have no problem closing out games even with just nine players dressed. Boston remained three games up on Chicago atop the Eastern Conference.
With the game tied at 82, Boston’s Big Three came through. Ray Allen hit a 17-foot jumper, Garnett made an 11-foot fadeaway jumper while being heavily defended and Pierce converted a three-point play with 18 seconds left to seal it.
Brandon Jennings scored 23 points for the similarly short-handed Bucks, who have lost 12 of the last 16.
Boston also got 17 points from Nenad Krstic and 11 points from Jeff Green, two of the Celtics’ five new players acquired in the last 10 days.
John Salmons hit a jumper and Carlos Delfino added a 28-footer to tie the game at 82-all with 3:36 left.
But Allen answered with his jumper and the Celtics dug in on defense, forcing turnovers on two consecutive possessions by the Bucks.
Jennings, who finished 8 of 19 from the field, missed an open shot on the baseline with 56 seconds left and Garnett grabbed the rebound before making his contested shot that gave the Celtics an 86-82 lead.
Salmons hit a free throw that made it 86-83 with 38 seconds left after Allen was called for a foul before the ball was put in play and the Bucks retained possession. But Garnett swatted away Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s layup and pumped his right arm as Rajon Rondo grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Rondo found Pierce streaking to the basket and Pierce made an easy layup after a bad foul by Keyon Dooling. Pierce’s free throw was the final margin.
Mbah a Moute returned from missing two games with an illness to finish with a season-high 19 points and Salmons had 11 for the Bucks, who were missing Andrew Bogut (strained left side), Ersan Ilyasova (concussion) and Drew Gooden (left foot).
Boston signed guard Carlos Arroyo on Sunday, but he wasn’t with the team. Krstic was acquired on Feb. 24 at the trading deadline along with Green for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. The Celtics have also signed Troy Murphy and Sasha Pavlovic in the last 10 days.
Boston has a slew of injury problems of its own, leaving Jermaine O’Neal (left knee), Shaquille O’Neal (right heel), Delonte West (right ankle), Glen Davis (left knee) and Von Wafer (right calf) at home during this one-game trip.
Two nights after Milwaukee was outscored 31-15 by Phoenix in the third quarter on the way to a double-digit loss, it happened again with the Celtics. A 1-for-10 stretch by the lowest-scoring, worst-shooting team in the NBA allowed Boston to turn a six-point deficit into a 69-65 lead heading into the fourth.
Notes: Shaquille O’Neal turned 39 on Sunday. He hasn’t played since Feb. 1. … Davis missed his second game since straining the patella tendon on a dunk in a win over Phoenix.