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Celtics down Warriors in Finals rematch, Bulls win in Paris

(AFP)

The Celtics held on for a gritty 121-118 NBA victory over reigning champions Golden State in Boston on Thursday as the league polished its global credentials with a glitzy game in Paris.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown came alive late for the Celtics, whose eighth straight win — this one against the team that bested them in last season’s NBA Finals — pushed their league-leading record to 34-12.

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Even as Tatum and Brown struggled to make shots early, the Celtics built a 10-point lead midway through the second quarter.

But the Warriors chipped away, and grabbed a 55-54 lead on Stephen Curry’s shot from the half-court logo at the halftime buzzer.

It looked like the Warriors, who dominated Boston in a December victory in San Francisco, had the Celtics’ number again as they pulled away to lead by as many as 11 in the third quarter.

They were up by nine early in the fourth, but Tatum’s running dunk pulled Boston within two with two minutes remaining. Al Horford came up with a three-pointer and a big block and Brown’s three-pointer tied it at 106-106 with 18.6 seconds left in regulation.

Marcus Smart’s opening basket of overtime gave the Celtics their first lead since the first half.

After a three-pointer from Curry put the Warriors up by one, Brown drove for a layup that put the Celtics back on top for good with 2:23 remaining.

They pushed the lead to as many as eight and survived a couple of miscues to seal the win.

Tatum, who scored 34 points with a career-high 19 rebounds, said the contest wasn’t about revenge, saying the Celtics didn’t buy into the “Finals rematch” hype that had them too tense in the teams’ December clash.

“The fact of the matter is, we lost. We lost the championship,” Tatum said. “No one win can bring that back. We can’t go back in time and change that.

“So we didn’t look at this as a rematch of the Finals. Whether we won or lost tonight, we didn’t celebrate or hang a banner or anything.”

Brown, returning from a three-game absence because of groin tightness, finished with 16 points — including 12 in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Curry paced the Warriors with 29 points. Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole added 24 apiece.

But the defeat was another road blow for the Warriors, who fell to 22-23 overall and 5-18 on the road. They have yet to beat a team with a winning record on the road this season.

“I love the effort. I love the grit,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “But we didn’t close the game. Better now than in the playoffs.”

The day tipped off in Paris, where DeMar DeRozan returned from injury to help the Chicago Bulls beat the Detroit Pistons 126-108.

DeRozan, who missed three games with a thigh injury, scored 26 points.

Bulls guard Zach LaVine led all scorers with 30 as the French capital hosted its second regular-season game after debuting on the NBA calendar in 2020.

– ‘A great moment’ –

Victor Wembanyama, the 19-year-old French prodigy who is expected to be the first overall pick in this year’s NBA draft — which could belong to the Pistons — was seated courtside.

So were past NBA greats including Magic Johnson and France’s Tony Parker, as well as celebrity spectators like rapper Lil Baby and music producer Pharrell Williams.

“Man, it was amazing,” DeRozan said. “Tonight is one of those games, I know for me, I’m going to look back years and years down the line and realize how great of a moment this was.”

Pistons guard Killian Hayes, who grew up in France, received a thunderous ovation when the starters were introduced, but the 21-year-old endured a difficult night, dishing out eight assists but scoring just four points with as many fouls.

Elsewhere, Mikal Bridges scored 28 points and Deandre Ayton added 24 with 14 rebounds to help the Phoenix Suns withstand Brooklyn’s furious fourth-quarter fight-back in a 117-112 victory over the Nets.

Nets star Kyrie Irving nearly willed his team to victory, scoring 21 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter.

The Nets, playing without injured Kevin Durant, trailed by 20 going into the final frame, but behind Irving they sliced the deficit to two points with 8.1 seconds left before the Suns — missing Devin Booker and Chris Paul — polished off the win.

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