Celtics-Bucks could be fight to finish

MILWAUKEE -- As if trying to make the fight fair after the season-ending injury to Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut earlier this month, the Boston Celtics sat Kevin Garnett for Saturday's potential playoff preview against the Milwaukee Bucks, even as both teams jockey for position in the Eastern Conference.

Even without its chief trash-talking antagonizer, Boston still played with the type of swagger and bravado it had oozed in 2007-08, emerging with a 105-90 triumph in which the upperclassmen of NBA High School sent a message to the upstart freshmen about whom exactly the playoffs go through.

When tempers flared late in the fourth quarter, everyone on the playground seemed destined for detention, even as the referees tried to separate the parties.

The teams will see each other again Wednesday night in Boston in the regular-season finale, but they've already made plans to settle this behind the schoolyard in a week's time when the playoffs begin.

"Boston is like big bullies from school," barked the greenest of the underclassmen, rookie Brandon Jennings. "A lot of teams don't like that."

Were the Celtics sending a message with their physical and chatter-filled play, particularly as things escalated after Boston started to pull away in the final quarter?

"I guess you could say that," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. "A couple technicals here, a couple technicals there. I don't know. Maybe we are setting up something for a week and a half."

That's when, if the current playoff order holds through the end of the regular season, the fourth-seeded Celtics will open the 2010 playoffs against the fifth-seeded Bucks.

In what would be a classic matchup between aging veterans and upstart newcomers, both teams were already digging in for the fight Saturday.

Glen Davis, known to commit hard fouls, took umbrage when Kurt Thomas dispensed some of the same medicine, earning a flagrant 1 as he threw Davis to the floor with 2:35 to play.

Davis popped up and earned himself a technical for bumping Thomas. It only lit the fuse.

A short time later, Pierce and Jerry Stackhouse got tangled while spilling to the floor, and Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles got ejected for arguing a call against Stackhouse in the ensuing fracas.

"At this stage, things are getting a little more intense. You're going to have some moments like that," Stackhouse said. "If you're going to get a technical, hopefully it's a double so nobody's shooting any free throws."

The Celtics ended up shooting the majority of the free throws and made them all -- hitting 12 in a row after Thomas' flagrant and 31 of 35 for the game.

"I don't know what you call any of that stuff," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought the refs did a nice job trying to keep it clean. When guys know there's a chance they'll see each other again, no one wants to give any ground. It's like they're marking their spot or their place. Both teams were doing that a little bit."

Jennings, the amped-up rookie who scored 19 points, seemed downright giddy at the prospect of a potential rematch.

"When the playoffs start, it's going to get crazy," said Jennings, who notably trash-talked Garnett while walking off the court when the Bucks won here last month and had a dustup with Davis during the game.

Although there's no guarantee the sides will see each other in the postseason, it is looking pretty likely with two games to play. And both sides talked as if it were a fait accompli.

"It's going to be fun, and I can't wait," Jennings said. "Just from the two games we've played them it's going to be a fistfight."

The Celtics wouldn't call Saturday's clash a statement game, but they certainly seemed to deliver a message.

"When you have a chance to play a team that you could possibly see in the playoffs, you don't want to give them confidence or swagger," Pierce said. "If you let them beat you consistently, then when you play that matchup, they think they have the advantage -- it gives them confidence. Those type of things can win a series; I've seen that happen.

"We wanted to put an end to that. They really played us good last time we were here, but we got the win [Saturday]. Hopefully we do the same when we see them at our place and win the season series."

For a Celtics team that has struggled with its intensity, this little flare-up might have been exactly what the team needs to focus moving forward.

"They're intense all the time, that's how the Bucks play," Rivers said. "I'm happy we had intensity; that was nice. It was really nothing out there. Like a bunch of featherweights. It wasn't a lot of anything -- a lot of reactions. Someone got hit, and everyone was reacting. I think we can all learn from that."

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.