LOS ANGELES – The Boston Celtics are already looking ahead to the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, and their star player Jayson Tatum strongly believes that they can beat any team this season.
On Monday night, the forward scored 17 of his 31 points in the third quarter as Boston earned an impressive 116-110 victory over the Raptors in Toronto.
Trailing 62-56 at half-time, the Celtics outscored the Raptors 35-18 in the third period to take an 11-point lead.
They then pushed their advantage to as many as 13 points in the fourth as they handed the Raptors just their third home defeat.
The NBA champions Golden State Warriors also suffered a rare home defeat, falling 112-104 to the Indiana Pacers – the Warriors’ second loss this season at the Chase Centre in San Francisco.
Andrew Nembhard scored 31 points to lead six Pacers players in double figures.
Klay Thompson’s 28 points led the Warriors as star point guard Stephen Curry endured a tough shooting night, connecting on three of 17 attempts on the way to 12 points.
“I just thought they came in, outplayed us,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
In Toronto, the Celtics improved their league-best record to 20-5.
They lead the Eastern Conference by two games over the Milwaukee Bucks, who beat the Orlando Magic 109-102 on the back of 34 points and 13 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Jaylen Brown added 22 points as Boston posted their seventh win in eight games – despite the absence of the injured Al Horford and ailing Malcolm Brogdon.
Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart added 18 points and Blake Griffin’s 13 included a tip-in off a Tatum miss that pushed Boston’s lead to 115-108 with 26.8 seconds remaining.
Tatum said the Celtics told themselves at half-time to “figure it out”.
“Second night of a back-to-back, against a team that plays really well at home,” he said.
“We were just playing too slow. We were worried about the officiating too much, and we just wanted to change that.”
He added that it was the kind of win the Celtics need if they are to return to the NBA Finals and claim the title that eluded them against Golden State last season.
“When we put our minds to it, we can beat anybody,” Tatum said.
In Orlando, the Milwaukee Bucks shook off a sluggish start on the way to a 54-45 half-time lead and never trailed after the interval, holding off a late push that saw the Magic cut the deficit to four points with 2:20 remaining.
Los Angeles Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George returned from injury and made an immediate impact in a 119-117 victory over the Hornets in Charlotte.
George, who missed seven straight games with a hamstring strain, led the Clippers with 19 points.
Leonard added 16 – including a game-tying put-back basket and the game-winning step-back jump shot with 1.4 seconds remaining.
“It felt good,” said Leonard, a two-time NBA champion who had missed the previous six games with a sprained right ankle.
“My teammates trusted me.”
In Dallas, the Mavericks seized control with a 33-15 first quarter and never let up in a 130-111 victory over the Western Conference-leading Phoenix Suns.
Luka Doncic scored 33 points and Spencer Dinwiddie added 21 for the Mavericks.
Deandre Ayton scored 20 points for Phoenix and Devin Booker, who had averaged 39 points over the Suns’ previous four games, scored 11. AFP