NBA conference leaders Boston and Denver were pushed to the limit on Thursday, the Celtics escaping in a 142-138 overtime triumph over Indiana and the Nuggets edging the Cavaliers in Cleveland.
Boston star Jayson Tatum, coming off a record-setting 55-point performance in the All-Star Game, scored 31 points, including the Celtics’ final four in overtime.
Denver held off the tenacious Cavaliers 115-109, while the Philadelphia 76ers erased a 17-point deficit to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 110-105.
Tatum got off to a slow start as NBA action resumed after the All-Star break, but finished with a double-double that included 12 rebounds.
Jaylen Brown added 30 points for the Celtics, who improved their league-leading record to 43-17, but are just one game ahead of the surging Milwaukee Bucks at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers, led by 40 points and 10 rebounds from Myles Turner, erased a 10-point halftime deficit.
It was tied at 125-125 with 1 minute, 41 seconds left in regulation. Both Tatum and Brown coughed up turnovers from there, but Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton missed a jump shot in the waning seconds as they went to overtime.
It was knotted at 138-138 with 56.2 seconds left in the extra session, but Tatum drained two free throws and sealed the win with a tip-in with 10.4 seconds remaining.
Brown said the victory bodes well for the Celtics’ stretch run to the playoffs.
“The more we are tested in those moments, I think it helps for the long run. We were able to weather the storm, figure out a way to win the game,” he said.
In Cleveland, Ohio, Michael Porter Jr, fed by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, drained the Nuggets’ 17th three-pointer of the night with 2:15 remaining to help Denver escape.
Porter and Caldwell-Pope combined for 10 three-pointers, while Denver’s two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic delivered his league-leading 22nd triple-double of the season with 24 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists.
Jamal Murray returned from a six-game injury absence to score 16 points for the Nuggets, who won their fourth straight.
The Cavs made them work for it, dominating inside in a game that featured 24 lead changes.
Cleveland were up by five when Reggie Jackson, making his Nuggets debut, drained a three-pointer from well beyond the half-court line to pull Denver within 91-89 heading into the final period.
Evan Mobley scored 31 points, while Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland added 22 each for Cleveland, but Mobley did not score in the fourth quarter and the Cavs did not score again after Garland’s basket pulled them within two with 2:38 to play.
In Philadelphia, Tobias Harris drained a three-pointer with 39.1 seconds remaining to put the 76ers up for the first time since the opening minutes, 106-105.
The Sixers, fueled by 31 points from James Harden, and 27 points and 19 rebounds from Joel Embiid, pulled away from there.
The Grizzlies had set the tone early, outscoring the Sixers 37-22 in the first quarter thanks largely to Desmond Bane’s 19 points.
Philadelphia trailed by 11 midway through the fourth, but Bane went cold, finishing with 25 points, while Jaren Jackson Jr added 18 and Ja Morant 15 for the Grizzlies.
Philadelphia closed the game with a 10-1 scoring run that included a thundering dunk from Embiid — who also blocked six shots.
The Los Angeles Lakers launched their final push for a playoff berth with a 124-111 victory over reigning champions the Golden State Warriors.
LeBron James scored just 13 points and Anthony Davis added 12 for the Lakers, who were led by Malik Beasley’s 25 and had a combined 68 from their bench in the comfortable win over a Warriors team missing Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins.
While James and Davis were able to get some welcome rest in the fourth quarter, there was bad news for the Lakers early as new arrival D’Angelo Russell exited in the first quarter with a sprained ankle.
Elsewhere, Utah’s Lauri Markkanen scored 43 points — including three free-throws with 4.6 seconds left to seal the Jazz’s 120-119 overtime victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Kings thrashed the Trail Blazers 133-116, the Mavericks spanked the Spurs 142-116, the Magic mastered the Pistons 108-106 and the Raptors punished the Pelicans 115-110.
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