NBA: Celtics battle past Nets in battle of East's top teams

Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics (right) passes against Nic Claxton of the Brooklyn Nets during their game on Jan 12, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK – Another night, another victory for the Boston Celtics, who believe they are hard to stop as they won their fifth straight National Basketball Association (NBA) game on Thursday.

The league leaders clawed out a 109-98 triumph in Brooklyn, pulling away late to boost their NBA-best record to 31-12 and widen the distance over the Nets (27-14) atop the Eastern Conference.

“We get out and run, it’s hard for people to stop it,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said.

“We were able to get back in transition on the defensive end and set our defence.”

Boston star Jayson Tatum endured a tough seven-for-22 shooting night on the way to 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Smart and Malcolm Brogdon added 16 points apiece for the Celtics, who learnt shortly before the contest that Jaylen Brown – coming off a 41-point performance in the win over New Orleans on Wednesday – would be sidelined with a right adductor muscle strain.

The Nets, meanwhile, were playing their first game since superstar Kevin Durant limped out of the win over Miami with a sprained right knee ligament. He is expected to be sidelined for several weeks.

Brooklyn, led by 24 points from Kyrie Irving, coped admirably through the first three quarters, leading the back-and-forth battle by as many as nine points in the first half and by five in the third quarter before Boston pulled away.

The Celtics connected on 10 of 19 shots from the field in the fourth quarter and clamped down defensively, holding the Nets to 16 points on six-of-19 shooting.

“We played against a really good team,” Smart added. “Obviously, they were depleted as well, but, you know, that’s still a good team over there with great players.

“It was just coming in and holding our own and just trying to make everything as tough as possible for them.”

Celtics coach Joe Mazulla said before the game he did not know how long Brown would be out, but hoped it would be not more than two weeks.

“Keep going,” Smart said of what Boston would have to do in the meantime. “Next man up.”

The Nets remained half a game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks (27-15), who fell to the Heat 108-102 in Miami.

Gabe Vincent scored a career-high 28 points, Bam Adebayo added 24 points and 12 rebounds, and Jimmy Butler chipped in 17 points and 11 rebounds for Miami in a clash of injury-depleted teams.

The Bucks, whose multiple absentees included two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, led by 15 in the second quarter, but the Heat had tied it up by half-time.

Miami opened the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run and did not trail in the final period. AFP

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