Celtics edge Raptors for 12th straight
BOSTON — The high-flying Boston Celtics have found all kinds of different ways to win during their 12-game winning streak.
With all kinds of players out.
On Sunday, they got Al Horford back but played without injured Kyrie Irving — and still managed to pull out a 95-94 victory over the Toronto Raptors, who are in line to be one of their major competitors to get out of the Eastern Conference.
“It’s unbelievable ... we are playing good teams too,” Terry Rozier said after the Celtics (12-2) survived two DeMar DeRozan shots in the closing seconds for their sixth straight home victory.
“They are the best team in the NBA right now and they are playing unbelievable,” Toronto’s Kyle Lowry said. “Everybody is picking up slack.”
Remember, this team lost major free agent signee Gordon Hayward in the first quarter of the first game of the season. TV commentator Charles Barkley declared that night that “Their season’s over.”
Not so far.
After DeRozan missed a jumper with Horford on him, rookie Jayson Tatum grabbed the rebound, turned and hit Fred VanVleet with an elbow for an offensive foul with 13.4 seconds remaining. The play was reviewed, the call stood and Toronto kept the ball.
DeRozan went one-on-one with Jaylen Brown, his shot fell off the rim and the buzzer sounded during a wild scramble under the basket.
“Great look — it felt good and I thought it was going to roll in but didn’t,” DeRozan said. “It came down to the last shot — have to love games like that.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey said, “I thought it was a great look. He shook him. He was wide open, vaulted up, and I’ll take that shot 999 times out of 1,000. Came up short on it, he got to where he wanted to go with the basketball, we got him open, play was well executed by everybody.
“Guy just missed a shot.”
The 12-game streak is Boston’s longest since a 14-gamer from Nov. 22 through Dec. 22, 2010. They can match that with wins at Brooklyn on Tuesday and then at home against the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday.
“I haven’t heard any of the guys talk about (the streak),” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “Certainly, we’re (the staff’s) not talking about it.”
The Raptors (7-5) trailed by five after a Tatum basket with 1:26 left and the Celtics failed to score again but held on to win without Irving, out with a slight facial fracture.
Horford, returning from a two-game absence from a concussion, scored 21 points (8 of 9 from the floor) to lead five Boston players in double figures. Brown added 18 points, Terry Rozier scored 16, Marcus Smart added 14 and Tatum had 13 points and seven rebounds.
Told after the game that Rozier said Horford was playing like a young Horford, Horford said, “I don’t know if young Al Horford plays like this.”
“I’m not surprised,” Stevens said of Horford bouncing right back after being out. “ ... He’s done so much for us for so long, nothing that he does on the court surprises me.”
DeRozan led the Raptors with 24 points (but was just 8 of 22 from the floor), his seventh straight 20-point game at TD Garden. Lowry had 19 points and seven assists. CJ Miles was the only other Raptors player in double figures with 10 points.
“Give a lot of credit to Coach Brad. He is a hell of a coach,” DeRozan said. “Guys playing the right way and moving the ball. Especially with a lot of key guys out. Gotta give them respect. They haven’t won this many games for no reason.”
Lowry passed Andrea Bargnani and moved into fourth place on the Raptors’ career scoring list.
“I would roll with that shot every time,” Lowry said of DeRozan’s final shot. “I don’t care, he’s shooting.”
Toronto, which was trying to end a team’s double-digit winning streak for the first time in franchise history, lost Norman Powell to a hip pointer in the first quarter.
NOTES: While C Al Horford was back in the Boston lineup after missing two games with a concussion, G Kyrie Irving was out. He was visiting a specialist to be fitted for a mask to protect his facial fracture, meaning a possible quick return — maybe Thursday against Golden State. “The good news is thus far that’s the only point of pain in his face or head or neck or anything else,” coach Brad Stevens said. “So he hasn’t been diagnosed with a concussion.” ... Irving scored a then-career-high 41 points the last time he wore a mask, on Dec. 15, 2012, for the Cleveland Cavaliers. ... The Raptors were called for two defensive 3-seconds technical fouls in the first half, but the Celtics missed both free throws. ... The Raptors visit Houston on Tuesday night.