Jayson Tatum scored 17 of his 31 points in the third quarter on Monday as the Boston Celtics kept rolling with a 116-110 NBA victory over the tenacious Toronto Raptors.
Trailing 62-56 at halftime, the Celtics out-scored the Raptors 35-18 in the third period to take a nine-point lead, pushing their advantage to as many as 13 in the fourth as they improved their league-best record to 20-5.
The Celtics 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 two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In Toronto, Tatum added 12 rebounds and Jaylen Brown scored 22 points as the Celtics posted their seventh win in eight games — despite the absence of 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.
Pascal Siakam led Toronto with 29 points and Scottie Barnes chipped in 21, but the Raptors lost at home for just the third time this season.
Tatum said the Celtics decided at halftime 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.
“We came out and started the third quarter with just a different boost of energy.”
Tatum said it’s the kind of win the Celtics need if they’re 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,” he said. “It’s a choice that we’ve got to make.”
In Orlando, the Bucks shook off a sluggish start on the way to a 54-45 halftime lead and never trailed after the interval, withstanding a late push that saw the Magic cut the deficit to four points with 2:20 remaining.
A free throw and a driving layup from Antetokounmpo helped extend the lead again, as the Bucks held on for the win.
Milwaukee made 13 three-pointers on 40 attempts, and kept their offense firing with 31 assists.
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 and 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 … I was able to get the ball at my spot and shot the ball confidently.
It was just the fourth game this season that Leonard and George have played together for the injury-hit Clippers.
Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 35 points and Josh Giddey added 12 of his 17 in the fourth quarter as the Thunder rallied from a double-digit deficit to beat the Hawks 121-114 in Atlanta.