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Battle-tested Celtics now turn attention to Rockets

Dec 25, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) fouls Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) attempting a shot during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics passed a big Christmas Day test to reclaim the best record in the entire NBA.

After scoring 139 points in Sunday’s win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics will host the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night in search of their third consecutive victory.

Jayson Tatum scored 41 points on 14-of-22 shooting to lead the Celtics against Milwaukee. One second-quarter hoop stood out, as Tatum took one of Marcus Smart’s eight assists and slammed a dunk over the Bucks’ Greek superstar.

That basket seemed to be a microcosm of the entire game, as the Celtics strung together multiple wins for the first time since a three-game streak from Dec. 5-7. They had previously lost five of six.

“It did feel good to kind of get back to playing the way we know how to play,” Tatum said. “We have the emotional understanding of, it’s a long season, and there’s going to be great stretches and some bad ones. It’s just kind of not letting the bad ones snowball, and get back on track sooner rather than later.”

Jaylen Brown led the way late, scoring 13 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter.

Tatum dropped 20 points in the third and finished with the second-highest Christmas scoring effort in franchise history as the Celtics blew open what was a one-point game at halftime.

It was the eighth career game Brown and Tatum combined for at least 70 points.

The Celtics not only got back to their early-season offensive ways — shooting 58.8 percent and banging in 19 3-pointers — but they also allowed just eight offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points.

“I think that has to become the identity of our team, is really working to win those factors consistently, whether we shoot the ball (well) or not,” Boston interim coach Joe Mazzulla said. “And I think our last two games, we’ve kind of done that.”

The Celtics opened their current seven-game homestand with two losses to Orlando, which had just five wins before going 8-1 in its last nine.

Boston looks to avoid a similar result against the Rockets, who are alone in the Western Conference cellar, but broke a five-game skid with Monday’s 133-118 win at Chicago.

Tuesday marks Houston’s second game on a three-game road trip. The Rockets will visit Dallas Thursday for a rematch of Friday’s game in which Mavericks star Luka Doncic scored 50 points.

“It’ll give us an opportunity to refocus, be together for a long time and not have any outside distractions and focus on hoop, which we need to do,” Houston coach Stephen Silas said.

Against the Bulls, Kevin Porter Jr. led Houston with a season-high 36 points on six 3-pointers while adding seven rebounds and nine assists.

Alperen Sengun posted 25 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double in a three-game span. He added six assists, two blocks and one steal to help beat Chicago.

Eric Gordon scored 12 points after missing the previous game with a bruised left thumb.

“You just got to have a winning mentality,” Gordon said. “When you’re on the road like this, you can’t make mistakes. You have to understand that we have a small margin for error to win any game. That’s why limiting mistakes and playing for one another is huge.”

The Celtics and Rockets have not met since November of 2021. Boston has won four straight head-to-head games.

–Field Level Media