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Depleted Celtics edge Raptors for ninth straight NBA win

The Boston Celtics shook off the absence of injured Jayson Tatum and the early departures of Marcus Smart and Robert Williams to beat the Toronto Raptors 106-104 on Saturday and push their NBA winning streak to nine games.

Jaylen Brown scored 27 points and Grant Williams added a career-high 25 for the Celtics, who improved their league-best record to 35-12.

Coming off a gritty overtime win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, the Celtics trailed 85-81 going into the fourth quarter.

But they opened the final frame with a 9-0 run courtesy of three-pointers from Brown, Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams and stayed in front until Toronto tied it up at 103-103 on Gary Trent Jr.’s three-pointer with 2:23 to play.

Pritchard, who scored all of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, drained another three-pointer that proved to be enough.

Malcolm Brogdon added 23 points off the bench for Boston, whose top scorer Tatum was sidelined with a sore left wrist.

Grant Williams said Tatum’s absence was no reason for the Celtics to surrender the mindset of an elite team gunning to get back to the NBA Finals for a second straight year after falling to Golden State in the title series.

“You can’t back down from any challenge, no matter if you’re down 12 guys, no matter if you’re down four, no matter if you’re down two, no matter if you’re a full team,” he said. “You have to do your job.”

Smart rolled his right ankle in the second quarter and left the game while Robert Williams hurt his left knee, stayed in the game briefly but sat out the second half.

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said Williams’s injury was “nothing serious” and Smart had a sprained ankle.

“X-rays were negative,” he said of Smart, who had to be helped off the court. “So it’s just a matter of how he’s able to cope with it day to day.”

Mobley propels Cavs 

In Cleveland, Evan Mobley made sure the Cavaliers didn’t make the same mistake twice, scoring a career-high 38 points in a 114-102 victory over a Milwaukee Bucks team missing two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.

A day earlier, the Cavs let a Golden State team missing star shooter Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green get past them, with coach J.B. Bickerstaff saying his team “got what we deserved” after taking the depleted Warriors too lightly.

On Saturday, second-year forward Mobley was laser-focused, connecting on 19 of 27 shots from the field and grabbing nine rebounds.

Mobley scored 14 points in the fourth quarter alone. Darius Garland added 21 points and 10 assists and Caris LeVert, starting in place of the Cavs’ injured top scorer Donovan Mitchell, added 13 points.

Milwaukee led by Jrue Holiday’s 28 points, trailed much of the contest but managed to edge ahead twice early in the fourth quarter before Cleveland closed the door.

“We were just trying to defend our home, show up for the entire game,” Mobley, 21, told Bally Sports Cleveland in an on-court interview.

Elsewhere the lowly Charlotte Hornets claimed back-to-back games for just the second time this season as they eked out a 122-118 victory over the Hawks in Atlanta.

The Hornets, down by 16 at halftime and by as many as 19 in the third quarter, rallied to snap the Hawks’ five-game winning streak.

Terry Rozier led Charlotte with 34 points, including three free-throws with 1.1 seconds left to give the Hornets a 120-118 lead.

After Atlanta failed to inbound the ball after a timeout, Rozier drained another pair of free throws.

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