BOSTON — It’s been 26 days since the Boston Celtics last lost a game, and, despite a rash of injuries and a fledgling roster, their winning streak is now at 12 games after Sunday’s gritty 95-94 triumph over the Toronto Raptors at TD Garden.
To put the length of Boston’s winning streak in perspective, the last time the Celtics lost, it was 30 degrees warmer in Boston. Since dropping their home opener to the Milwaukee Bucks on Oct. 18, one night after Boston lost Gordon Hayward to a season-ending ankle injury in Cleveland, the Celtics have utilized six different starting lineups and six different rookies and found different ways to win each night.
On Sunday, the Celtics were without Kyrie Irving (facial fracture) but got back Al Horford, who missed the previous two games due to a concussion. Horford, outstanding at both ends of the court this season, picked up right where he left off. Horford scored a team-high 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting and provided some key, late-game offense as Boston found a way to escape with another victory.
All that stands between Boston and a 13-game winning streak heading into Thursday’s visit from the Golden State Warriors is a Tuesday night trip to Brooklyn.
The Raptors had two chances to win Sunday’s game, but DeMar DeRozan missed a pair of pull-up jumpers — one defended by Horford, the other by Jaylen Brown. An offensive foul on rookie Jayson Tatum gave the Raptors a second gasp, but Boston’s league-leading defense rose to the challenge again.
The Celtics labored through an abysmal first half, shooting 33 percent from the floor. A four-point play by Terry Rozier in the final seconds of the second quarter was 20 percent of their output in the frame. An offensive explosion followed in the third quarter, and when Horford and Brown hit back-to-back 3s, Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck from his baseline seat implored fans to get loud.
But nothing has come particularly easy for Boston on this winning streak, and this game would be no different. DeRozan and Kyle Lowry paired up for 43 points on 13-of-32 shooting.
The Celtics countered with a balanced output with five different players in double figures, including 16 points from Terry Rozier off the bench. Brown added 18 and Marcus Smart had 14 points while being a defensive pest.
Irving, two days after getting inadvertently elbowed in the face by teammate Aron Baynes, was not at TD Garden for Sunday’s game. He was meeting with a specialist to examine the fracture beneath his right eye and get fitted for the protective mask he’ll wear when he returns to game action.
Stevens didn’t know whether that return will occur Tuesday night when the Celtics travel to Brooklyn but said that, with Irving pained only by the facial fracture and thus free of concussion symptoms, the team is hopeful he’ll be on the court “sooner rather than later.”