The Boston Celtics have eight regular season games remaining, and they might need to win them all if they have hopes of entering the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Boston will play the first of those eight games Sunday when it faces a visiting the San Antonio Spurs, who long have been eliminated from playoff contention.
The Celtics (51-23) have won six of their past eight games and are chasing Milwaukee for the NBA’s best record. The Bucks entered Saturday night’s game at Denver with a 53-20 record and 2 1/2 games ahead of the Celtics. Five of Boston’s remaining games will be played at home.
The Celtics received strong games from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Friday night’s 120-95 triumph over Indiana. Tatum scored a game-high 34 points in the victory, and Brown finished with 27. Each player had seven rebounds.
Tatum reached at least 30 points in a game for the 40th time this season.
“I think they’re both finding a great balance of being dominant players and being team players,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I just think when they do that our team’s different. Right now, they’re very committed to being both.
“Our guys have great poise about how this season goes and I think they’re in a good place right now.”
Brown said he’s been trying to provide the team with even more at each end of the court.
“Just playing with more of a sense of urgency, and two, just being more communicative and just trying to get guys going and get guys to be aggressive and just being a leader out there,” Brown said. “I think that’s key. Playing the game the right way (and) encouraging our guys to be aggressive and doing what they do best.”
The Spurs (19-55) have been playing shorthanded lately, but Keldon Johnson returned to the court after missing two games with a neck strain and turned in a strong performance during Friday night’s 136-124 loss to Washington. Johnson tossed in 30 points, had 10 rebounds and added four assists in 31 minutes.
It was the eighth time he’s scored at least 30 points in a game this season, and his fifth double-double.
The Spurs were without starters Devin Vassell (knee injury management), rookie Jeremy Sochan (knee) and Zach Collins (bruised bicep), as well as backup Romeo Langford (adductor injury management).
“We got to play a lot of guys, a lot of guys got minutes, we got a good look at a lot of them,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “And we just feel great about the effort they give every night.”
Sunday’s game will be the final stop on a four-game road trip for San Antonio, which has lost three in a row and five of its past six.
The Spurs were also missing three starters the last time they played the Celtics, but still managed to put up a good fight. Boston received a 34-point performance from Tatum and pulled out a 121-116 victory in San Antonio on Jan. 7.
The Spurs never led but tied the game 116-116 on a Josh Richardson 3-pointer with 37.1 seconds to play. Tatum answered with a jump shot that gave the Celtics the lead for good. San Antonio played that game without Johnson, Vassell and Jakob Poeltl.
Richardson (New Orleans Pelicans) and Poeltl (Toronto Raptors) were traded at the NBA trade deadline.
–Field Level Media