MILWAUKEE (AP) — Jayson Tatum scored 40 points, Jaylen Brown added 30 and the Boston Celtics steamrolled the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks 140-99 on Thursday night.
The Celtics (53-24) shot 22 of 43 from 3-point range and moved within two games of the Bucks (55-22) in the Eastern Conference standings. The Celtics won the season series with the Bucks 2-1, which would give Boston the tiebreaker if both teams finish with the same record.
Boston’s performance in those three games with Milwaukee should give the Celtics plenty of confidence they could knock out the Bucks again if they meet in the postseason. The Celtics beat the Bucks in seven games in last season’s East semifinals.
The Celtics beat the Bucks 139-118 in Boston on Christmas Day and lost 131-125 in overtime on Feb. 14. The Celtics didn’t play Brown, Tatum, Marcus Smart or Al Horford in that overtime loss.
Milwaukee took a hit on the floor as well as in the standings. Bucks forward Khris Middleton left the game midway through the third quarter after taking an elbow to the face from Brown. The play resulted in a charging foul on Brown and caused Middleton to receive stitches on his upper lip.
Boston built a 114-74 lead through three periods, causing most of the starters for both teams to sit out the entire fourth quarter.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 24 points.
This matched the Bucks' most lopsided loss of the season. They fell 142-101 at Memphis on Dec. 15.
The Bucks were playing one night after a 149-136 victory at Indiana in which they shot a season-high 62.4% from the floor with Jrue Holiday scoring 51 points and Antetokounmpo having 38 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists. This marked the first time an NBA team had one player score at least 50 points and another have a triple-double with at least 35 points in the same game.
Milwaukee found the going quite a bit tougher Thursday.
Antetokounmpo shot just 11 of 27, including 0 for 5 from 3-point range. Holiday started his night by sinking a 3-pointer, but went 1 of 7 the rest of the way and finished with just six points.
After the first 8½ minutes of the game featured nine lead changes and five ties, the Celtics seized control by going on a 29-9 over the last seven-plus minutes. Boston capped that spurt by scoring 13 straight points.
Boston didn't let up the rest of the night.
Milwaukee's Thanasis Antetokounmpo was ejected with 1:25 left for head-butting Boston's Blake Griffin. The head-butting came after Griffin committed a flagrant-1 foul against Antetokounmpo.
Celtics: Boston outscored Milwaukee 41-21 in the second period and matched its highest second-quarter point total of the season. ... Payton Pritchard didn't play due to left heel pain.
Bucks: Middleton and Joe Ingles returned to action after sitting out the Bucks' victory at Indiana. Since Middleton and Ingles both returned from knee injuries earlier this season, the Bucks generally have avoided playing them on back-to-back nights. ... Meyers Leonard missed a seventh straight game with a sore left calf.
Celtics: Hosts the Utah Jazz on Friday. In their lone previous matchup this season, the Celtics lost 118-117 at Utah on March 18.
Bucks: Hosts the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday. The Bucks are 1-2 against the 76ers this season, including a 133-130 home loss on March 4 that snapped Milwaukee's 16-game winning streak.