BOSTON -- Slow starts are just temporary setbacks for the Boston Celtics.
"When you get used to winning, you're like, 'We're going to get back in this game,'" Pierce said. "We've just got to settle down, play our brand of basketball and everything will be all right."
The Celtics fell behind by 11 points midway through the first quarter and didn't go ahead until Kevin Garnett's dunk made it 44-42 with 4:13 left in the half. They led the rest of the way with the NBA's best field-goal defense.
On Wednesday night, Boston beat Oklahoma City 96-83 after trailing 29-21 going into the second quarter. The Celtics' airplane didn't land back home until about 4:30 a.m. Thursday and that cut into their practice time for the Bucks.
"It was a tough little trip," starting with a win in Houston on Tuesday night, Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "We talked about it as a staff. We were concerned with the start."
On Friday, the Bucks led 30-23 after one quarter despite missing leading scorer Michael Redd for the second straight game with a sprained right ankle. They did have Richard Jefferson, who was unstoppable in the first 6 minutes.
He scored 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting as Milwaukee raced out to a 19-8 lead with 6:21 left in the first quarter. But he missed his other four shots in the half and the Celtics led 55-47 at intermission.
"He got off to a great start and then I thought we just focused on him more," Rivers said. "I don't mind if guys make contested shots over us. I just hate the hands-down shots that we have him."
Jefferson scored 20 points and Charlie Villanueva added 13 points and 12 rebounds for Milwaukee. Garnett had 16 points for Boston and Kendrick Perkins had seven blocks in 24 minutes. The last Celtic to get more in a game was Kevin McHale, who had eight against Sacramento on Jan. 9, 1987.
"I was messing up so bad on the offensive end that I had to make it up on the defensive end," said Perkins, who had six points and missed five of his seven shots.
The defending champion Celtics (5-1) have held all their opponents below 100 points. They entered the game allowing teams to make just 37.6 percent of their shots. And after Milwaukee went 11-for-22 in the first quarter, they held the Bucks to 20-for-56 shooting (35.7 percent) the rest of the way.
"In the second half we didn't match their energy," Villanueva said. "When you play Boston, every quarter they pick it up" and play better.
The Celtics outscored the Bucks 60-36 in the paint.
"They pretty much owned us [there] from beginning to end," Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said. "We also did a lot of things tonight where our spacing was poor and our execution wasn't sharp."
The Celtics fell behind 42-38 on a short jumper by Luke Ridnour with 5:50 to go in the half. Then they took charge with a 15-1 run starting with two free throws by Tony Allen before tying the game on a basket by Pierce before Garnett put them ahead to stay.
After Ridnour's free throw cut Boston's lead to 44-43, Pierce's 3-pointer and driving layup made it 49-43 before Garnett finished the spurt with a 17-footer and a put-back dunk for a 53-43 lead with 45 seconds left in the half.
The Bucks cut the lead to 73-70 with 27 seconds left in the third quarter then turned the ball over on three of their next four possessions and came no closer as the Celtics outscored them 13-3 in the first three minutes of the fourth to go ahead 86-73.
"It's easy to say, 'keep your head up, keep playing,'" Skiles said. "But when you have that many turnovers in a pro game against a club like that, the odds are long that you'll be able to overcome that."
Boston had 28 assists, 17 turnovers and 13 steals. Milwaukee finished with 22 turnovers and 17 assists.
Pierce made four free throws and trails Bob Cousy by four for second most in Celtics history. Pierce has 4,617 and Cousy had 4,621. John Havlicek holds the team record of 5,369. ... Ridnour had 12 points in his second game since missing two games with back spasms. ... Former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir sat in the front row next to Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck. Weir and his group RatDog perform in Boston on Saturday night. ... Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, wife Shonda and New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel also were in the crowd. ... Rookie Bill Walker, Boston's second-round draft pick, made his NBA debut, scoring two points in the final 4 minutes.