BOSTON, JAN. 9 -- The Boston Celtics, after learning Larry Bird will be sidelined indefinitely, turned to their young backcourt of Reggie Lewis and Brian Shaw tonight to hold off the Bucks, 110-102, and end Milwaukee's eight-game winning streak.
Boston, off to its best start in 18 seasons, nearly blew a 28-point lead in its second consecutive game without Bird, who has an inflamed nerve and swollen disc in his lower back.
"When Larry Bird is healthy and sound again and ready to play, he'll play," Dave Gavitt, the Celtics' senior executive vice president, said at a pregame news conference. "When that is, your guess is as good as mine, and I'm not going to guess.
"We are deliberately putting no timetable on this."
Gavitt said Bird's back is not herniated or ruptured. "Surgery has never been a consideration," Gavitt said.
As part of his recovery Bird, who has had back problems the past few years, will receive steroid injections to relieve inflammation, as well as oral steroids.
The Celtics, leaders of the Atlantic Division with a 28-5 record, won their 17th straight home game and fifth overall. The Bucks, the Central leaders, are 25-9 but 7-9 on the road.
Milwaukee's biggest deficit was 54-26 with 5:40 left in the first half, but it closed to 84-82 on Brad Lohaus's dunk to open the fourth quarter.
Then a dunk and 13-footer by Lewis, who scored 26 points, and Kevin McHale's jumper from the top of the key made the score 90-82. McHale paced Boston with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks.
Two free throws by Ricky Pierce, who led Milwaukee with 22 points, cut the deficit to 101-97 with 3:35 to go. Shaw sank two foul shots, then got his third steal on Milwaukee's next possession.
Lewis made the Bucks pay for the turnover, converting an offensive rebound for a 105-97 edge with 2:08 remaining.
Shaw's two free throws with 30 seconds left made it 108-98 and gave him seven points in the fourth quarter. He finished with 17.
Bird is averaging a career low 19.2 points per game and was second on the team to McHale's 19.3 before tonight. The Celtics had six players averaging at least 13.9 points per game and are the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference.
Bird's increasing back pain is the team's first serious injury. Until he missed Tuesday's game against the Knicks, the Celtics' top seven players had played in all their games.
Bird experienced pain during training camp. He was in pain Sunday night, when he scored 17 points in 38 minutes of a 127-110 victory over Dallas.
During Monday's practice, he limited his activity to shooting after experiencing increased pain. Medical tests were done Monday night, Tuesday and today, Gavitt said, "and today we started a treatment cycle for Larry that we feel confident in and that he feels confident in."
On Wednesday, Bird began wearing a cumbersome "flexion brace, which is not something you walk around in or play in," Gavitt said. "The support he's getting from it is giving him some relief.
"What's important here is Larry's good health and that's both short and long term. We're talking about anything other than a malingerer.
"We've got games to play. We've got to focus our coaching staff and our players' attention on the duties at hand. We'd love to have Larry with us and we know that as soon as he can be with us and as soon as he's healthy, he will be."