MIAMI (AFP) – Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum powered the Boston Celtics to a 122-100 rout of defending NBA champion Toronto on Friday night, keeping the Raptors from clinching the Eastern Conference second seed.
Brown scored 20 points, Tatum added 18 and Kemba Walker added 17 for the Celtics (46-23), who pulled within 3.5 games of second-place Toronto and three ahead of fourth-place Miami.
“We’re getting there,” Tatum said. “I don’t want to put a cap on it, say where our ceiling is, but we’re improving every day and we don’t want to stop.”
The Celtics, who boasted seven double-figure scorers, never trailed against the NBA’s second-best defensive squad, jumping ahead 52-37 at halftime and outscoring the Raptors 39-20 in the third quarter.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise when your offence is dialed in like that,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
Fred VanVleet led Toronto with only 13 points, but the Celtics and Raptors could face each other in the second round of the playoffs and both sides know it could be much different.
“They are a good team,” Tatum said. “We’ll probably see them again.”
The Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic clinched the last two berths in the East playoffs in different fashions.
Brooklyn, led by 22 points from Caris LeVert and 21 from Joe Harris, routed Sacramento 119-106. The Nets (33-36) ensured ninth-place Washington could not pull within four games to force a play-in series under NBA restart rules.
Orlando (32-38) had a chance to win and seal a berth but the Philadelphia 76ers rallied in the second half to beat the Magic 108-101.
Instead, the Magic reached the playoffs when Washington lost to New Orleans 118-107, leaving the Wizards (24-45) the only winless bubble team and too far back to threaten Orlando.
Cameroonian star Joel Embiid had 23 points and 13 rebounds for the 76ers while Tobias Harris added 23 points and 15 rebounds, Al Horford scored 21 and reserve Alec Burks contributed 22.
The Magic began the fourth quarter with a three-for-17 shooting slump from the floor and the 76ers, missing Australian star Ben Simmons due to a left knee injury, went on a 9-1 run over 4:30 for a 97-87 edge to seal it.
Sixers coach Brett Brown liked Embiid boosting his game in the second half.
“I loved his physical approach. The team needs that and feeds off that,” he said. “There was a physicality we didn’t show much of in the first half.”
GRIZZLIES HALT SKID
The Memphis Grizzlies, clinging to eighth in the Western Conference, snapped a four-game restart losing skid by routing Oklahoma City 121-92.
“We’ve learned from it and were able to come out and get a win tonight,” Grizzlies rookie star Ja Morant said.
“We learned to play 48 minutes of basketball and just be disciplined, trust our teammates, and play hard.”
Memphis guard Dillon Brooks scored a game-high 22 points while Morant and Jonas Valanciunas each had 19 points.
Oklahoma City, without New Zealand centre Steven Adams due to a left leg injury, led by as many as 18 points in the first half but a 70-41 Memphis run produced a 95-78 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Grizzlies, 33-37, finish season games by facing the East’s three top teams – Toronto, Boston and NBA wins leader Milwaukee.
The Thunder fell to sixth in the West at 42-26, a half-game behind Utah.
San Antonio guard Derrick White scored 24 points while Austrian seven-footer Jakob Poeltl added 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Spurs over Utah 119-111.
The Spurs, seeking a playoff berth for a record 23rd consecutive season, improved to 30-38, one game behind ninth-place Portland and a play-in spot with three games remaining.
Jordan Clarkson came off the bench to lead the Jazz (43-26) with 24 points.