PORTLAND, Ore (AP) — Jayson Tatum had 34 points and 12 rebounds, and the Boston Celtics withstood a late Portland rally for a 126-112 victory over the struggling Trail Blazers on Friday night.
Jaylen Brown added 27 points for the Celtics, who have won four of their last five after a three-game losing streak. Boston sits behind NBA-leading Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference.
Damian Lillard finished with 41 points — including 25 in the fourth quarter — for the Blazers, who have lost five straight. At 13th in the West, Portland hasn’t yet been eliminated from the playoffs but time was running out with just 12 games remaining.
“This is the time of year where teams, you know, you can’t wait until the next step,” said Al Horford, who finished with 12 points and 11 assists for Boston. “But you have to play these games. You have to. We need to continue to play good basketball and get better.”
Boston led by as many as 21 points in the third quarter. Lillard’s 3-pointer pulled Portland within 109-96 and he hit another 3 to close the gap to 111-103. Lillard scored 18 straight Blazers points at one point.
The teams exchanged free throws before Brown dunked and Horford hit a 3-pointer to put Boston up 118-105 with 1:33 left and all but seal the win.
“The game is never going to be perfect. It’s the NBA, they’re going to make shots, make runs. I tell you guys all time, it’s how you respond,” Tatum said.
Tatum (hip) and Marcus Smart (non-COVID illness) were questionable before the game but both started for the Celtics. Malcolm Brogdon sat out with right Achilles tendon soreness.
Grant Williams’ 3-pointer put the Celtics up 42-30 in the second quarter. Boston led by as many as 16 in the half to go ahead 63-48 at the break. Tatum led all scorers with 19 points.
The Celtics extended the lead to as many as 19 points in the third quarter.
“We haven’t had many games where we don’t give it our all. Game like tonight, we played a team that’s let’s face it, better than us. That’s one of the elite teams in the league,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “When you play against teams like that, you can’t shoot yourself in the foot, because you’ve got to play pretty much an outstanding game to have a shot. But we kept fighting, we kept scrapping.”
Celtics: With a steal in the opening quarter, Smart became the fourth Boston player to reach 900 career steals. … It was fourth of a six-game road trip for the Celtics. … The Celtics won the first of the two meetings with the Blazers 115-93 on March 8.
Trail Blazers: Starting forward Jerami Grant missed his second game with a left quad contusion. … The Blazers were also without Nassir Little because of illness. … Portland announced earlier in the day that forward Justise Winslow underwent a bone marrow treatment on his left ankle. He has not played since spraining his ankle in December.
“Even when it seems like it’s out of reach, I’m going to go out there and compete and I’m going to try to make something happen regardless of how realistic or unrealistic it is and live with the results,” Lillard said.
Lillard has scored at least 20 points in 30 straight games, the longest streak of his career, and the longest current streak in the NBA.
Celtics: Visit the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
Trail Blazers: Host the Clippers on Sunday night.