NBA roundup: Celtics improve league-leading record, Harden struggles in return
Toronto, Canada - The NBA's Boston Celtics kept their terrific season rolling on Monday when they utilized a dominant third quarter to defeat the Toronto Raptors 116-110 away from home.
Boston were led by Jayson Tatum, who finished with 31 points on 11-of-24 shooting, hitting five of his 10 three-point attempts while adding 12 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block in his 39 minutes. He helped his side outscore the Raptors 35-18 in the third period, turning around a six-point deficit at halftime.
The 24-year-old is enjoying the best season of his career, averaging a career-high 30.7 points per game while shooting a career-best 48.1% from the field, all while attempting a career-high 9.3 three-pointers per game.
Tatum was supported well by running-mate Jaylen Brown, who chipped in 22 points (nine-of-22 shooting), eight rebounds, and eight assists, while reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart posted 18 points (seven-of-14) and seven assists.
While the Celtics were the best defensive team in the league this past season when they went to the NBA Finals, this campaign it has been all about their offense.
Scoring 120 points per 100 possessions, they are two-and-a-half points clear of the second-ranked Phoenix Suns (117.5), and they are getting it done by shooting a league-best 40.2% from the three-point line.
Their win against the Raptors was their 21st game with at least 110 points, helping them to a league-best record of 20-5, while no other team has more than 17 wins.
Around the league
Playing against his former team, James Harden returned for the Philadelphia 76ers after five weeks on the sidelines, but had a rough outing in a 132-123 double-overtime loss to the Houston Rockets.
Harden, who won the 2017-18 league MVP while playing for the Rockets, scored 21 points, dished seven assists, snagged four rebounds, and plucked two steals, but he shot a dismal four-of-19 from the field.
His step-back three-pointer tied the game at 108-108 with 90 seconds remaining in regulation, ultimately forcing overtime, before back-to-back MVP runner-up Joel Embiid fouled out in the first extra period, leaving the 76ers short-handed for the second overtime.
Last year's second overall draft pick Jalen Green was strong for the Rockets, scoring 27 points on nine-of-20 shooting with seven assists, while this year's third overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. added 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Arguably the breakout star of the season so far, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the best player on the floor yet again in a 121-114 win on the road against the Atlanta Hawks.
The 24-year-old is currently third in the NBA in scoring at 31.1 points per game, and that figure got a bump after he put up 35 points against the Hawks, hitting 10-of-22 from the field and all 15 of his free throws.
Of the four other players averaging at least 30 points per game this season (Luka Doncic, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jayson Tatum), none are attempting fewer than Gilgeous-Alexanders 3.0 three-pointers per game, and none are shooting better than his 92.4% from the free throw line.
Cover photo: Collage: REUTERS