BOSTON -- As much as he wanted to keep playing in his return from a sore lower back, Rajon Rondo knew it was much more prudent to rest on the bench in the second half.
Rondo finished with 15 assists despite not playing the fourth quarter and Paul Pierce scored all 12 of his points in the first half, even though he missed most of it with a sprained toe.
"I wanted to play a little bit more, but it was smart for me to sit in the second half," said Rondo, who had missed three straight games. "I just wanted to share the ball, get my teammates moving and get them in a rhythm. I also wanted to get myself in a rhythm. I didn't want to turn the ball over tonight and I think I did a pretty good job."
The Celtics will open the playoffs Sunday at Atlanta, which clinched home-court advantage with a win over Dallas. Had the Hawks lost, they would instead be coming to Boston for the series opener.
"Well, there's nothing we could do about it," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "They won and so we're going to Atlanta."
With the Celtics' fate largely in the hands of the Hawks, Boston used its returning starters sparingly after pulling ahead by as much as 21 in the first half. The only starter missing was Ray Allen, who has been out the last two weeks with a sore right ankle.
Kevin Garnett sat out the last two games to rest an injured hip flexor. He played 11:04 against the Bucks, all in the first half, and had four points, two rebounds and three assists. Mickael Pietrus returned after missing four games with a sore right knee and scored nine points.
Tobias Harris led Milwaukee with 17 points. Jon Leuer added 15 points and Brandon Jennings 12 for the Bucks, who were 28-28 on April 7 but never could return to .500, finishing the season at 31-35 with two straight losses.
The Bucks had 23 turnovers on Thursday.
"They played tight defense that we have played in the past. We haven't played it this year," Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said. "They took us out of what we wanted to run. We had to start over dribbling a little bit and just had great difficulty with getting any baskets."
Rondo had 12 assists in the first half, extending his streak to 24 games with at least 10 assists. It's the longest streak in the NBA since John Stockton reached double-figure assists in 29 straight in 1992.
"He made it look pretty easy," Skiles said. "He plays at his pace even if you're doing a good job, it's hard to get out of his pace."
Boston's Ryan Hollins tied his career high with four blocks and scored nine points for Boston, which went up 2-0 on Pierce's layup 17 seconds in and never let go of the lead.
Pierce scored the first five points of the game and had a dozen in the first half despite playing just 6:41. He left early in the first quarter with a sprained left big toe and the Celtics said he was unlikely to return. He returned for the end of the second quarter and scored five as Boston took a 60-42 lead into halftime.
Hollins scored seven points as Boston opened the second period on a 13-2 run and held Milwaukee without a field goal for the first 3:52.
Keyon Dooling started the scoring with a 3-pointer, and Hollis followed with a dunk, a three-point play after dunking an offensive rebound, and an 11-footer to put Boston up 31-20. E'Twaun Moore added a 3-pointer with 9:09 left in the period and Milwaukee called time out, down 34-20 after trailing by just three entering the quarter.
"Defensively they're a championship-caliber team and that's why they're a contender," Leuer said. "They have that emphasis on the defensive end and that's why it's hard to score on them."
Boston will host Games 3 and 4 against the Hawks next Friday and Sunday. ... Rondo is the first player since John Lucas to have 15 or more assists and not score a point since John Lucas did it for the Spurs on April 15, 1984 against Denver. ... Rondo averaged 11.7 assists and is the first Boston player to lead the league since Bob Cousy in 1959-60. ...The Celtics won nine of their last 12 after a two-game losing streak in early April. ... Boston C Greg Stiemsma missed his second straight game with a sore right foot. ... Carlos Delfino (groin) and Monta Ellis (right hand) did not travel with the Bucks for the regular-season finale. ... Bradley was the only Boston starter to score in the third quarter, finishing with eight points in the period.