Brown leads Celtics over Pelicans, Bucks sink Hawks

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 11: Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics dribbles against the New Orleans Pelicans in the first half at TD Garden on January 11, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTICE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photograph, the user agrees to the terms of the Getty Images License Agreement. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Maddie Meyer/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/Getty Images via AFP)

The Eastern Conference frontrunners warmed up for Thursday’s deciding clash against Brooklyn with a composed performance to defeat the Pelicans, the third-ranked team in the Western Conference this season.

Brown, who is averaging just under 27 points per game this season, delivered again 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, day out — you just have to be willing to do your job,” Brown said after his season high.

“I was able to come out and get something going.”

Boston’s balanced offense proved too much for New Orleans, with Jayson Tatum also adding 31 points and Malcolm Brogdon adding 20 from the bench.

Al Horford added 14 points for Boston missing starters Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III.

CJ McCollum distinguished himself with 38 points for New Orleans, while Naji Marshall added 18 for a Pelicans team missing injured Zion Williamson (hamstring) and Brandon Ingram (toe).

Boston leads the Eastern Conference with a 30-12 record going into Thursday’s game against the second-ranked Nets.

The third-ranked Milwaukee Bucks, meanwhile, continued their pursuit of the Eastern Conference leaders with a 114-105 win over the Hawks in Atlanta, with Jrue Holiday leading the standings with 27 points.

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was limited to a season-low seven points but still influenced 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 seemed in total control early in the second half, jumping a 24-point lead in the third quarter and looking poised for a routine win.

– “We are resilient” –

However, Atlanta rallied against the Bucks total and eventually secured the game’s first lead late in the fourth quarter when Bogdan Bogdanovic’s pullup jump shot made it 103-101.

Lopez restored the Bucks’ advantage with a three-pointer to make it 104-103, and Milwaukee reasserted their control to end the win.

“We’re resilient, we don’t like to lose,” Holiday said after the Bucks’ win.

“Closing games like this are educational moments where we can complete games and use all of that in the future.”

On Wednesday, Ja Morant returned from two games through injury and scored 38 points as the Memphis Grizzlies clinched a 135-129 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

Memphis’ eighth consecutive win resulted in an improvement to 28-13, leveling them with the Denver Nuggets at the top of the Western Conference.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, kept up with the Grizzlies after destroying the underpowered Phoenix Suns 126-97.

Denver’s two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic narrowly missed his 12th triple double of the season, finishing the ball arena with 21 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

Denver was out of sight at halftime, pouring in 70 points in the first half to lead by 16 points at the break.

The Nuggets kept their goal frenzy going into the third quarter, temporarily stretching the lead to 32 points in the third quarter as they drove to victory.

In other games Wednesday, the Detroit Pistons moved away from bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 135-118 blowout over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Saddiq Bey led the scoring for Detroit with 31 points as the Pistons broke a three-game losing streak to climb over the Charlotte Hornets at the bottom of the table.