The Boston Celtics, fueled by a near triple-double from Jayson Tatum, held off the short-handed but determined Miami Heat 110-106 in an NBA clash that turned testy in a tense fourth quarter on Sunday.
League leaders Boston, who blew out the Heat last month, found the going tougher this time as the Heat cut a 15-point third-quarter deficit to two with less than two minutes remaining.
Boston star Jaylen Brown and Miami’s Duncan Robinson exchanged heated words after tangling early in the final period, with Brown assessed a flagrant foul.
But the Celtics stunned by the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last season kept their heads down and polished off Miami.
Tatum scored 26 points with 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Kristaps Porzingis added 25 points, Brown scored 20 points and Jrue Holiday chipped in 15 for the Celtics, who made 16-of-39 three-point attempts.
Tyler Herro scored 22 of his 24 points in the second half. His three-pointer with 1:49 remaining pulled the Heat within 106-104, but Porzingis and Tatum sealed the win at the free-throw line.
Tatum said the Celtics are “better than we were last year at this point” but cautioned that the pressure “really kicks up” after next week’s NBA All-Star Game break.
“We’re playing good basketball, but we’ve still got some ways to go,” he said. “But I think we’re on the right direction.”
The Heat were without their scoring and assists leader Jimmy Butler, who was absent from the team after a death in his family.
They also lost Terry Rozier and Josh Richardson to injuries. Rozier made an awkward landing on his right leg on a drive to the basket in the third quarter.
Richardson departed in the second quarter with a right shoulder injury.
– Thunder bounce back –
In Sunday’s only other game, Western Conference contenders Oklahoma City snapped a two-game skid with a 127-113 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 38 points and Jalen Williams added 32 for the Thunder, who bounced back from a lopsided loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.
The Thunder haven’t lost three straight all season and they looked determined to keep it that way, jumping to an 18-8 lead midway through the first quarter.
“Usually when we lose and we lose big it’s because of our first quarter,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We set the tone early and that gave us the edge the rest of the game.”
Oklahoma City led by 17 going into the fourth quarter and Sacramento couldn’t get the deficit below seven points in the final frame.
Kings center Domantas Sabonis had a triple-double of 21 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists and Malik Monk scored 26 points off the bench.
But De’Aaron Fox, who was averaging almost 27 points per game, was held to 15 and the Thunder scored 30 points off 18 Kings turnovers.
“We got into a good rhythm,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We were playing fast, we were getting stops and when we get out in transition we’re the best version of ourselves.”
Pierre Daccache, with AFP