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Bucks handle short-handed Celtics to close out regular season

BOSTON -- Ray Allen watched from the bench as his Boston Celtics lost to the Milwaukee Bucks. Then he faced the television in the locker room showing the Miami Heat on their way to a win.

That victory determined the Celtics first-round playoff opponent -- the Heat, not the Bucks.

It made no difference to him.

"It has nothing to do with those two teams," Allen said after the Bucks' 106-95 win Wednesday night, the Celtics seventh loss in 10 games. "It's all about us."

And that includes the Big Three. On Wednesday, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Allen all sat out to avoid possible injury as the Celtics already had clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

"This is the healthiest we've been," coach Doc Rivers said. "I think this is the best Kevin's been since early in the season. I think Paul is feeling fantastic right now."

The game began as a possible first-round preview if Milwaukee won and Miami lost to New Jersey. However, the Heat beat the Nets 94-86 in double-overtime. That meant the Celtics would face the fifth-seeded Heat while the sixth-seeded Bucks would meet the third-seeded Atlanta Hawks.

The Bucks had cleared out of the dressing room by the time the matchups were set. But they were pleased with a season in which they finished at 46-36, a 12-game improvement over last season. That was the biggest in the Eastern Conference as the Bucks snapped a two-game losing streak and are in the playoffs for the first time in four years.

"We didn't want to go into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak," said Jerry Stackhouse, who tied Luke Ridnour with a team-high 17 points. "Winning your last game gives you a little bit of confidence."

Even if it came against a team that didn't use four starters -- their big three plus center Kendrick Perkins. He has 15 technical fouls and another might have brought a one-game suspension in the playoffs. Rivers said a call to the NBA didn't provide an answer as to whether a suspension would be served then or at the beginning of next season.

Milwaukee used its starters more sparingly than usual.

"That was our plan going into the game and yet still try to win," coach Scott Skiles said. "We just wanted to play well and get some momentum and get focused."

The game lacked defense and excitement. Spectators moved toward the exits midway through the fourth quarter.

"I'm glad the regular season is over," Bucks rookie point guard Brandon Jennings said. "Now we can get down to serious business. Every game matters."

Rajon Rondo had 21 points and 15 assists for the Celtics.

"Everybody says they have three stars -- KG, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce," Jennings said, "but he's the key."

The other three, though, will be well rested.

"I feel good about my team," Rondo said. "We had guys rest tonight, the older guys. So I'm excited. It's a different atmosphere playoff time, a different feeling, different vibe, everything."

For the Celtics, Marquis Daniels scored 13 points and Shelden Williams and Nate Robinson added 12 each.

"This is my first playoff experience so I want to go all the way and help this team do that," said Robinson, acquired from the New York Knicks on Feb. 18.

The Celtics finished at 50-32, their worst record in three seasons. They won the NBA title in 2008 but were eliminated in the Eastern semifinals in 2009.

On Wednesday night, they took their last lead, 72-71, on a 3-pointer by Michael Finley with 4:43 left in the third quarter. Then the Bucks finished the quarter with a 17-6 run that gave them an 88-78 lead going into the fourth. Milwaukee led by at least 10 points the rest of the way.

Still, Skiles said, "Our defense is still not where I'd like it to be."

The game had none of the intensity of Boston's 105-90 win at Milwaukee last Saturday night in which the physical play picked up in the final 3:32.

In that game, Kurt Thomas got a flagrant foul, Glen Davis got a technical and Skiles was ejected.

Game notes
The teams combined for just 15 turnovers. ... G Oliver Lafayette had seven points in his first game for the Celtics after playing for Fort Wayne in the NBA Development League. ... Milwaukee's starters scored just 37 points and none played more than 23 minutes.