NBA: East heavyweights clash as Celtics host Bucks
The Boston Celtics will look to maintain the NBA’s best record Sunday when they host the Milwaukee Bucks for the first time since last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals.
Boston got back on the winning track with Friday’s 121-109 win over Minnesota in which Jaylen Brown (36) and Jayson Tatum (30) combined for 66 points.
The Celtics had lost three straight and five of their previous six games, going without a home win since Nov. 30 prior to beating the Timberwolves on Friday.
“I think what we saw in the second half of (Wednesday’s loss to Indiana) and what we saw (Friday), it’s our best version of our team,” Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla said. “And we just have to commit to that. If we’re physically and mentally tougher and work at it, the talent and everything else will take care of that because we have that.”
Both members of the star duo scored 30 points in the same game for the 17th time in their careers on Friday, allowing them to pass Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen for the third-most such games since 1985.
Brown scored 23 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter to match Minnesota’s entire team total and mark the highest-scoring period of his career.
“I was able to get one in and found the momentum,” Brown said. “Once I saw one go in, I was not taking my foot off the gas.”
The Celtics will look to keep their foot on the gas against a Milwaukee club that dropped its second straight game 118-100 on Friday at Brooklyn.
Finishing off the win over Minnesota could be exactly the turning point that the Celtics needed.
“It feels good, sometimes you get in these ruts and you’re feeling you’re breaking through and you can’t get over the hump and tonight we were able to do that,” said Al Horford, who knocked down five 3-pointers and finished with 17 points against Minnesota.
Boston has played on seven straight Christmases and will be hosting the holiday game for the fifth time ever.
The Celtics enter at 23-10, just a half-game ahead of the Bucks (22-10) for the East’s best record.
The Bucks, who have lost back-to-back games just twice this season, have not crossed the 50-point threshold in the first half of their last three setbacks.
They are just 7-5 in December, having scored 112 or fewer points in seven of those games.
“We are being comfortable — we just expect to, I don’t know, that people are just going to hand us games,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “It doesn’t work that way. … You’ve got to go out there and play good basketball, build good habits, defend and compete.”
Antetokounmpo (26 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and two steals) took a hard fall on a foul in the third quarter of Friday’s loss to the Nets, but the X-ray of his right hand came back clean.
“Mostly means he’s OK,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I’m sure he may be a little bit sore, a little bit banged up.”
Brook Lopez scored 23 points. Eighteen turnovers were the Bucks’ downfall against Brooklyn, as they led to 24 Nets points.
“We’ve got to take better care of the ball,” Budenholzer said. “We’ve got to make better decisions. We can’t just have possessions without shots.”
The Bucks appear to have dodged a bullet in terms of a significant injury to Antetokounmpo, but Khris Middleton did miss his fourth straight game due to knee soreness.
NBA: Jaylen Brown’s big 4th quarter carries Celtics past Wolves
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