Joe Harris scored a team high 20 points as the short-handed Brooklyn Nets withstood Jayson Tatum's 38-point performance with a 109-104 victory on Friday in New York.
Kyrie Irving flirted with a triple double, finishing with 15 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds but it wasn't his best shooting game as the Nets had to hold off a late rally by the Celtics in front of a pandemic-limited crowd of 1,700 at Barclays Center arena.
"We know that we're not going to have it right away some games, so we've just got to battle through," Irving said.
Even though they were missing Kevin Durant and James Harden, the Nets still managed to lead for most of the contest and regain first place in the Eastern Conference standings with the victory.
They improved to 40-20 on the season for a half-game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been struggling of late.
Nets forward Durant missed his third straight game with a thigh injury which he got in Sunday's loss to Miami. Durant has played in just 24 of Brooklyn's 59 games this season. He recently returned from a 23-game absence due to a hamstring injury.
Brooklyn also continues to be without star guard James Harden (hamstring), who sat out for the ninth straight game.
Jeff Green scored 19 points, Bruce Brown chipped in 15 and DeAndre Jordan grabbed 11 rebounds for Brooklyn, who controlled the tempo by outscoring the Celtics 32-3 in fast break points.
Tatum led all scorers, rookie Payton Pritchard drained six six-pointers en route to 22 points, while Marcus Smart finished with 19 as the Celtics outscored the Nets 27-15 in the last 10 minutes of the game. Tatum bounced back offensively after going three of 17 from the field in each of his previous two games.
"Any time you turn the ball over a lot and you give a team like Brooklyn opportunities to get out in transition, get easy shots and stuff like that, it's going to be tough to win games," Pritchard said.
Boston dropped to 32-28, losing for only the third time in its past 12 games and falling one game behind the Atlanta Hawks.
- Curry rebounds -
Elsewhere, Stephen Curry led a balanced offence with a game-high 32 points as the Golden State Warriors beat Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 118-97.
The 30-point game was the 12th in Curry's past 13 outings. He was held to just 18 points in a four-point loss at Washington on Wednesday.
Kelly Oubre had 23 points, Andrew Wiggins 19, Jordan Poole 15 as the under-manned Warriors surprised the Nuggets.
Nuggets star Jokic was held to 19 points, six rebounds and six assists as Denver also lost Will Barton early in the game to an apparent hamstring injury.
Also, Bogdan Bogdanovic had 21 points and a game-high eight assists, leading the host Atlanta Hawks, who played without two of their biggest stars, to a 118-103 win over the Miami Heat.
The Hawks were without a half dozen players, including Trae Young (ankle) and Clint Capela (bruised tailbone). Young and Capela are averaging 41 points per game and Capela leads the league in rebounds.