Jays Combine for 70 as Celtics Dominate First-Place Bucks

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum both understood the magnitude of Thursday night’s matchup in Milwaukee, and they didn’t shy away from the moment.

In what has been a season of masterful tandem efforts, they delivered their best one of all, combining for 70 points through the first three quarters of a 140-99 demolition of the top-ranked team in the NBA.

“They just had a different look in their eyes. They both did,” Al Horford said of the Jays’ early outburst. “They were clear-headed, making the right play every time. This was a special one for them.”

Tatum erupted for 40 points while shooting 8-of-10 from 3-point range, and Brown poured in 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting from the field before both taking a seat on the bench to watch the second unit put the Bucks away.

It marked their 12th game of scoring at least 30 points apiece, matching the most such games for teammates in a season since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2002-03.

This game had a little extra meaning behind it, as the Celtics entered the night three games behind the Bucks in the East standings. A loss would have all but shut the door on Boston’s hopes for the No. 1 seed, but a win kept those aspirations alive.

Beyond the seeding implications, this was a crucial pre-playoff test against a team that many would consider to be Boston’s biggest intraconference threat. However, it wasn’t a challenge for long, as the Jays came out with an intensity that couldn’t be matched with Brown delivering 17 points in the first quarter and Tatum adding 15 of his own in the second before heading into halftime with a 75-47 lead.

Tatum entered the half with 22 points and Brown had 20, both bolstering their respective cases for All-NBA selections in front of a nationally televised audience while also giving a taste of what is hopefully to come over the next few months of postseason basketball.

“It’s that time of the year,” said Brown, who moved past Frank Ramsey into 17th place on the Celtics' all-time scoring list Thursday night with his 8,379th career point. “We’re all getting ready for the playoffs. Back against the walls, survival of the fittest, we want to be the last team on top, and we know this team is one of the teams we gotta go through.”

There was also some extra fire in their bellies after coming off a stunning 19-point defeat in Washington Tuesday night. Tatum said after that game that the team would undoubtedly come out with more urgency in Milwaukee, and they lived up to his word.

“We responded well from the jump, and that’s all that I wanted and all that we wanted as a team regardless of if we won or not,” said Tatum, whose 11th 40-point game of the season tied Larry Bird’s single-season record for such games. “Just to respond and play better than we did last game.”

Head coach Joe Mazzulla thought the team played better on all fronts, shooting at a high clip (56.0 percent from the field and 51.2 percent from 3-point range), making smart decisions with the ball (28 assists to eight turnovers), and limiting the Bucks in transition (eight fast-break points allowed).

It marked Boston's largest margin of victory on the road this season and just the eighth road win by at least 40 points in franchise history.

“We were better detailed,” said Mazzulla. “We were detailed in our scouting, we were detailed in our personnel, we were detailed in how we were going to attack offensively and we made shots. But outside of the making shots, I thought that we had a different approach in our mindset tonight and something we have to continue moving forward.”

Specifically, moving forward into Friday night when the Celtics return home for the second game of a back-to-back against the Utah Jazz.

Tatum said this win, no matter how big it was, won’t feel as satisfying if they can’t get the next job done.

“Tonight was a good win on the road, but they all count as one,” he said. “We’ve got to put tonight behind us and come out with the same energy and focus tomorrow.”