Jaylen Brown knocked down his shots in the fourth quarter. And then he knocked down Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Brown scored 13 of his 29 points in the fourth, and Jayson Tatum scored 41 for Boston on Sunday to help the Celtics beat Milwaukee 139-118 in a matchup of the top two teams in the NBA.
Tatum scored 20 in the third quarter, when the Celtics turned a one-point lead into a 100-86 edge. Brown took over in the fourth, contributing on defense with a pick that sent Antetokounmpo to the floor before he bounced back up and shoved Brown in the back.
“I thought I was playing pretty physical defense, nothing dirty. It seemed like it was a clean play,” Brown said. “Maybe he was a little but frustrated. He got up and threw an elbow at me, for whatever reason.”
After some jawing back and forth, Antetokounmpo was given a technical foul and went to the bench. The teams played the last 3:41 without further incident.
“There’s a difference between trying to be a tough guy and letting your opponent know that I’m not backing down, I’m not afraid of any challenge or any matchup whatsoever,” Brown said. “At that moment I was just letting him know that.”
Antetokounmpo, who fell hard on his hand on Friday night but was cleared to start, scored 27 points with nine rebounds. Asked about his team’s ability to limit the damage done by Antetokounmpo, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said, “Limiting’s crazy. He was 27.”
“He’s a great player,” he said, “and you’ve got to be disciplined against him.”
Jrue Holiday scored 23 for Milwaukee, which lost a third straight game for the first time this season. The Celtics have also struggled lately, losing five of six before winning back-to-back games.
Still, Boston (24-10) has the best record in the league, followed by Milwaukee (22-11).
“Obviously, we lost to them last year in the playoffs and we’ve had battles with them since I’ve gotten to Milwaukee,” said Bucks forward Pat Connaughton. “So they’re two teams that are very familiar with each other.”
“But it’s also December 25th. The NBA season is a long season, and we will be a much better basketball team by the end of this year than we are right now,” he said. “And I’m sure they will be, too.”
Memphis Grizzlies 109-123 Golden State Warriors
Jordan Poole is far from a finished product, and the fourth-year guard showed both signs of brilliance and struggles controlling his emotions on the big Christmas Day basketball stage.
Poole scored 32 points – highlighted by an emphatic one-handed slam off a pass from Draymond Green in the third – to outduel Ja Morant before being ejected early in the fourth, and the Warriors beat the Memphis Grizzlies 123-109 on Sunday night in a rematch of the Western Conference semifinals won by Golden State.
“When we’re locked in and we’re playing for each other we’re a damn good team,” guard Donte DiVincenzo said. “The big thing for us is when we’re tested with adversity.”
Coach Steve Kerr wasn’t thrilled with the technicals, although he got one, too.
Morant scored 36 points while debuting his first Nike signature ‘Ja 1’ shoe for the Grizzlies’ first Christmas Day game.
Klay Thompson added 24 points and nine rebounds, DiVincenzo had 19 points and Ty Jerome came up big off the bench in the third for 14 points as the Warriors played their 10th straight Christmas game.
LA Lakers 115-124 Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks had trailed from the opening bucket when the crowd erupted at the sight of retired star Dirk Nowitzki on the video boards late in the first half.
Nowitzki’s old team joined the celebration soon enough on the day of his statue unveiling.
Doncic scored 32 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. had 16 of his 26 points in a huge third quarter for Dallas and the Mavericks beat the Los Angeles Lakers 124-115 on Sunday.
Christian Wood added 30 points and tied a career high with seven assists as the Mavericks finished off the Nowitzki celebration by winning just the second Christmas Day home game in club history.
Dallas took their first lead during a 51-point third quarter, the highest-scoring quarter on Christmas in NBA history and a league-best this season.
“I think we had to get the jitters out a little bit, some guys’ first time playing on Christmas,” Hardaway said. “Just being able to appreciate the opportunity.”
LeBron James scored 38 points, one shy of his season high, and the Lakers led by 12 early in the third before the Mavericks took over.
Philadelphia 76ers 119-112 New York Knicks
The Philadelphia 76ers weren’t playing well, and worse than that, Joel Embiid thought he was playing soft.
He and James Harden have the Sixers on too good a roll to stay down too long.
“We just know how to play. We just know what to do,” Embiid said.
Embiid scored 35 points, Harden had 29 points and 13 assists and the 76ers blew by the New York Knicks in the final quarter, extending their winning streak to eight games with a 119-112 victory Sunday.
Georges Niang hit four 3-pointers in Philadelphia’s fourth-quarter surge and finished with 16 points, while De’Anthony Melton added 15 as the 76ers got off to a good start on a four-game road trip after sweeping a seven-game homestand.
“It was one of those games where you just got to stick around,” Harden said. “Like, stick around, stick around and then fourth quarter you give yourself a chance.”
And the 76ers seized it.
After never leading through three, they outscored the Knicks 24-9 to open the fourth, turning a one-point deficit into a 116-102 lead.
Julius Randle scored 35 points and Jalen Brunson had 23 points and 11 assists for the Knicks, who have lost three straight following an eight-game winning streak.
“Again, we’re just not doing enough to win right now and that’s what we have to fix,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.