The NBA Eastern Conference standings are not difficult to decipher: The Milwaukee Bucks are on top and then there is a five-team race for second place — and the Boston Celtics have made the mess even messier.
Gordon Hayward on Tuesday scored 29 points and Jaylen Brown added 25 to keep the Celtics ahead most of the game on the way to beating the Miami Heat 109-101.
“Every game is important,” Hayward said. “Every single one we play is important in the playoff race. We’re all so close together so ... each one we have to treat it like a playoff game. That’s just how tight it is.”
The Celtics became the first Eastern Conference team to visit Miami and win this season; the rest of the conference had been 0-13 on the Heat floor.
The Celtics held the Heat to 37 percent shooting, a season-worst at home and their third-worst effort in 47 games this season.
“Their defense really jammed us up,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team fell to 0-2 against the Celtics this season. “That’s two games that they’ve done it to us. We’re better than this ... and the little things matter against a good defensive team like this.”
Kemba Walker added 16 points and eight assists for the Celtics, who got 11 points from Marcus Smart and a 10-point, 11-rebound effort from Daniel Theis.
The Toronto Raptors moved into second in the East, a game up on the Heat. The Boston Celtics are a half-game behind the Heat, the No. 5 Philadelphia 76ers are a game behind the Celtics and the No. 6 Indiana Pacers are only a half-game behind the 76ers.
Goran Dragic led the Heat with 23 points, while Jimmy Butler scored 20, Bam Adebayo had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Duncan Robinson scored 12 points.
The Celtics outscored the Heat 15-0 from the three-point range in the game’s first nine minutes, a big reason why the Celtics took control from the outset and built as much as a 13-point lead in the opening quarter.
The Heat went to a zone defense and slowed the Celtics down, but it was not enough.
“Guys did a really good job of attacking it,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Once we got a comfortable rhythm against it, we were a little bit better. It’s hard to score on those guys.”
The Heat took the lead on a pair of occasions in the second quarter, but only for a span of a couple minutes.
The Celtics took a 53-48 lead into the half and watched the Heat score to repeatedly make it a one or two-possession game all the way down the stretch.
However, the Heat never held the lead in the second half. Every time they got close, the Celtics had the answer and Smart’s three-pointer with 1 minute, 50 seconds left put the Celtics up by eight points to all but seal matters.
The tributes to the life of Kobe Bryant continued, as Spoelstra, Stevens and their staff members wore Bryant’s signature sneakers — a gesture that other NBA coaches made on Tuesday as well.
“It’s about more than the player,” Adebayo said. “It’s about a lot more when you’re honoring Kobe.”
The Heat also displayed the numbers 8 and 24 — Bryant’s two jersey numbers in the distinctive Los Angeles Lakers purple and gold — on an electronic sign attached to the basket stanchions.
Also on Tuesday, it was:
‧ Bucks 151, Wizards 131
‧ 76ers 115, Warriors 104
‧ Raptors 130, Hawks 114
‧ Grizzlies 104, Nuggets 96
‧ Pelicans 125, Cavaliers 111
‧ Suns 133, Mavericks 104
‧ Hornets 97, Knicks 92
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