James Harden delivered game highs of 44 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists Friday to power the Brooklyn Nets over Detroit 113-111 while Boston ended Milwaukee's eight-game NBA win streak.
Harden missed Wednesday's loss at Utah with neck soreness but returned with a vengeance at Detroit, hitting 14-of-30 from the floor, 4-of-11 3-pointers, and 12-of-14 free throws.
It was Harden's highest-scoring performance since joining the Nets from Houston, helping Brooklyn improve to 31-15 and making a case for himself as the NBA Most Valuable Player.
"I feel like I am the MVP. It's just that simple," Harden said. "Let's leave it at that."
Harden scored 12 of Brooklyn's 15 points in a key stretch that ended early in the fourth quarter and turned a one-point deficit into a 10-point Nets lead.
"I just try to go out there and give my teammates every single thing I can bring to the game," Harden said. "I just take what the defense gives me, just play the game the right way and try to be efficient."
With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving missing from the Nets' lineup, Harden has raised his game. Also inspired was reserve Blake Griffin, who added 17 points in his return after leaving Detroit for the Nets.
Jeff Green sank a late 3-pointer and Joe Harris added a free throw with 5.3 seconds to hold off the Pistons.
Boston's Jayson Tatum scored 34 points and Marcus Smart added 23 to spark the Celtics over host Milwaukee 122-114 after losing 10 of their prior 11 road contests.
"We played with good purpose, good connectivity," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "I thought everybody that played gave us a good lift."
Milwaukee fell to 29-15, falling a game behind Brooklyn into third in the Eastern Conference, while Boston improved to 22-23.
Khris Middleton had 19 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 16 despite being benched in the fourth quarter.
"They were excellent and we didn't play our best. We weren't as good as them tonight," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "We didn't play good enough."
Bahamian big man Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul each scored 19 points and Devin Booker added 16 to spark Phoenix over Toronto 104-100 for a 10th win in 13 contests, the Suns improving to second in the Western Conference at 30-14.
"It takes a lot of pressure off," Booker said of his teammates' effort. "You don't have to perform at the highest, highest level every night to win games."
- Jazz win fourth in row -
Serbian Nikola Jokic scored 37 points and Michael Porter Jr. added 25 to lead the Denver Nuggets to a 113-108 win over the host New Orleans Pelicans despite 39 points by Zion Williamson, who sank 16-of-19 from the floor and 6-of-7 from the free throw line.
Utah's Donovan Mitchell scored 35 points and French big man Rudy Gobert added 25 points and nine rebounds in a 117-114 home triumph over Memphis. Grizzlies star Ja Morant scored 32 points in a losing cause as the Jazz improved the NBA's best record to 33-11 with a fourth straight victory.
Norman Powell and CJ McCollum each scored 22 points to power the Portland Trail Blazers over host Orlando 112-105 while Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon each scored 22 points to lead Indiana over host Dallas 109-94.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 29 points and 16 rebounds for Minnesota in a 107-101 home victory over Houston. He had 14 points in a game-ending 22-0 run for the Timberwolves after Houston led by 16.
Charlotte's Malik Monk came off the bench to score a game-high 32 points and lead the Hornets over visiting Miami 110-105.