Jaylen Brown scored 41 points as the Boston Celtics underscored their status as the NBA’s fit team with a 125-114 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.
The Eastern Conference leaders warmed up for Thursday’s pivotal showdown against Brooklyn with a composed performance to overwhelm the Pelicans, the third-ranked team in the Western Conference this season.
Brown, averaging just under 27 points per game this season, once again delivered for the Celtics, shooting 15-of-21 from the field with 12 rebounds.
“It’s a long season, it’s a lot of basketball, day in and day out — you just have to get ready to do your job,” Brown said after his season-high point tally. “I was able to go out and make something work.”
Boston’s balanced offense proved too much for New Orleans, with Jayson Tatum also scoring 31 points and Malcolm Brogdon adding 20 off the bench.
Al Horford added 14 points for Boston, which was missing starters Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III.
CJ McCollum stood out for New Orleans with 38 points while Naji Marshall added 18 for a Pelicans team lacking injured Zion Williamson (hamstring) and Brandon Ingram (toe).
Boston leads the Eastern Conference with a 30-12 record heading into Thursday’s game against the second-place Nets.
Meanwhile, the third-placed Milwaukee Bucks continued their chase for Eastern Conference leaders with a 114-105 win over the Hawks in Atlanta, with Jrue Holiday leading the league with 27 points.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was limited to a season-low seven points but still impacted proceedings with 18 rebounds and 10 assists
Holiday was one of five Milwaukee players in double figures, with Brook Lopez adding 20 points and Bobby Portis and Jevon Carter each scoring 13. Pat Connaughton finished with 10 points.
Milwaukee appeared to be in total control going into the second half, jumping out to lead by 24 points in the third quarter and seemingly poised for a routine victory.
However Atlanta undercut the Bucks’ total and finally got their first lead of the game late in the fourth quarter when Bogdan Bogdanovic’s jump shot made it 103-101.
Lopez restored the Bucks’ lead with a 104-103 3-pointer and Milwaukee reassembled control to seal the win.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Ja Morant returned from a two-game injured absence to score 38 points as the Memphis Grizzlies cruised to a 136-129 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
In other games, the Detroit Pistons fell out of the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 135-118 blowout over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Saddiq Bey led in scoring for Detroit with 31 points as the Pistons snapped a three-game losing streak to leapfrog the Charlotte Hornets at the bottom of the league.
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