LOS ANGELES: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 70 points as the Boston Celtics crushed the Milwaukee Bucks 140-99 in a one-sided clash of the NBA’s best two teams on Thursday.
Tatum produced a scintillating performance that included eight three-pointers in a 40-point haul, while Brown shot 13-of-20 to finish with 30 points as Milwaukee were sent spinning to their heaviest loss of the season.
The defeat was a sobering reality check for the Bucks, who are leading the Eastern Conference and expected to claim top seeding in the playoffs.
Milwaukee (55-22) lead Boston (53-24) by two games with five regular season fixtures remaining.
Second-placed Boston however landed what may turn out to be a psychological body blow as the postseason looms with a ruthless beatdown that left Milwaukee’s home fans in stunned silence.
“We just wanted to come out and be aggressive,” Brown said.
“We just wanted to come out and play good basketball and that’s what we did.”
Tensions flared in the closing stages of the blowout, with Milwaukee’s Thanasis Antetokounmpo ejected for aiming a head butt at Boston’s Blake Griffin.
“It’s that time of year,” Brown said. “We’re all getting ready for the playoffs, it’s backs against the wall and survival of the fittest.
“We want to be the last team on top and they’re one of the teams we’ve got to go through.”
Tatum was in no mood to wallow in the victory, pointing out that Boston face another road game on Friday against Utah.
“We have to forget about tonight. We want to show how good of a team we are by the way we respond tomorrow,” Tatum said. “That’s all that matters at this point.”
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said the result was a timely reminder of what might happen in the playoffs if the two sides met again.
“We know what the deal is. It’s not hard to understand. If you’re not focused, if you don’t play hard, they’re going to kick our ass,” Antetokounmpo said.
“Simple as that. They did it tonight and won by 40. If you don’t go out there to make it tough for them, they’re going to kick our ass. There’s no level of concern. It’s a fact.
“Now we have this in our head, and it’s up to us to see how we deal with it. If we go out and play the same way, we’re going to have the same outcome.”
The contest was effectively all but finished in the third quarter, with the Celtics racing away to a 44-point lead at one stage.
Boston were up by 40 points entering the fourth quarter, allowing head coach Joe Mazzulla to rest Tatum, Brown and other starters.
Still, the Celtics kept up the pressure, extending their lead to 49 points midway through the fourth.
In what could well turn out to be a sneak preview of the Eastern Conference finals, Boston went on the front foot early, taking a 34-26 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Celtics then blew the game wide open in the second quarter, outscoring the Bucks 41-21 to take a stranglehold on the game.
Boston continued to drop the hammer in the third quarter, with Tatum pouring in 18 points — including four three-pointers — to roar to a 114-74 lead.
“We’ve been playing good basketball for the last couple of weeks,” Brown said.
“We’ve just got to keep it up and see where that takes us.”
While Boston departed Milwaukee with a confidence-boosting win, the Bucks were left with plenty of food for thought after an iron-clad Celtics defensive effort shut down the home side’s scorers.
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 24 points, while Khris Middleton ended with 13. No other Milwaukee starter cracked double figures.