fb-pixel Skip to main content
CELTICS 95, RAPTORS 94

Once again, the Celtics find a way to win, extending their streak to 12

Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan missed this attempt from the field in the waning seconds of Sunday’s game at TD Garden.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said he’d feel good about DeMar DeRozan’s game-winning shot attempt 999 times out of 1,000.

“He shook him,” Casey said. “He was wide open.”

Celtics forward Jaylen Brown was the player Casey was referring to, the player who was guarding DeRozan. And even Brown acknowledged later that DeRozan would probably make that shot 90 percent of the time.

But for a team such as Boston that is on such an improbable run, probabilities lose some of their relevance. DeRozan’s jumper from just inside the foul line thudded off the front of the rim, and the Celtics had a 95-94 victory on Sunday, their 12th in a row.

Advertisement



After the final buzzer, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier excitedly pumped their fists in the air, and the celebration continued when they met their teammates on the bench.

Coach Brad Stevens said he has kept his team’s routine normal during this stunning streak, and that the run has not changed his players. He said he has not even heard them talk about it.

“When [Stevens] is not around,” Rozier later said coyly, “we do.”

It is only fair, of course, because the rest of the NBA is talking about it, too.

Very little in this streak has come easily. Boston twice came back from 18-point, second-half deficits. It has played games without Kyrie Irving, Horford, Marcus Morris, and Smart. It hasn’t mattered.

It has become a fun exercise to try to determine which win of the streak was the most unlikely, and Sunday’s game would be a strong nominee. The Celtics were facing one of the Eastern Conference’s premier teams without Irving, their premier player.

The All-Star point guard suffered a facial fracture when he was inadvertently elbowed by teammate Aron Baynes in the opening minute of the game against the Hornets on Friday. He was not at TD Garden for Sunday’s game, though the Celtics believe he avoided a concussion and are optimistic he will return soon.

Advertisement



This team has shown that it is not defined by one star, though, and Sunday offered further proof. Horford, who missed the last two games with a concussion, returned and was sterling. He made 8 of 9 shots and tallied 21 points and four assists. Stevens’s only minor gripe afterward was that the Celtics had not found ways to get him more opportunities.

Horford missed nine games with a concussion last season. That incident caused him to have extreme nausea, headaches, and dizziness, and left him extremely sensitive to light. He was relieved that the symptoms this time were less jarring.

“I wanted to make sure that I was feeling right, that I was good,” Horford said. “And I just had to be aggressive and just try to play my game. And you can’t worry about that stuff. If I’m out there, I have to play.”

One somewhat confounding aspect of this streak is that it has mostly been accompanied by poor shooting and an unspectacular offense. Sunday wasn’t much different, as Boston made just 40.2 percent of its shots and committed 15 turnovers.

But the defense and rebounding remained elite, and it has given the Celtics confidence knowing those two facets cannot abandon a team the way 3-pointers can. In this game, the Celtics outrebounded Toronto, 46-36, and forced 17 turnovers.

Advertisement



“We’re battling every night, and we know that,” rookie forward Jayson Tatum said, “and I think that’s the joy of it.”

The Celtics led by a point before Horford dunked inside to make it 93-90 with 2:10 left. At the other end Horford came up with a steal after DeRozan slipped, and with the shot clock running down Tatum converted a difficult driving layup, scooping a shot in with his right hand as he approached from the left side.

Jayson Tatum gave the Celtics a 95-90 lead late in the fourth quarter.JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF

Kyle Lowry made a lightly contested layup, and after a steal two O.G. Anunoby free throws pulled the Raptors within 95-94. With 19 seconds left DeRozan missed a jumper from the right baseline and Tatum corralled the rebound. But as he attempted to dribble upcourt he elbowed Toronto’s Fred VanVleet in the face, resulting in an offensive foul.

“Coach just said, ‘Let’s get one more stop,’ ” Tatum said. “We talked about what we had to do.”

The ensuing inbounds pass came to Lowry, who briefly waited until DeRozan came and took possession near the right arc. DeRozan squared up against Brown, jabbed to his right and took two strong dribbles to his left. But his fadeaway jumper was short.

“I got a late contest, but he missed this one,” Brown said, “so we’ll take the win.”

DeRozan finished with 24 points to lead Toronto, but he will likely remember the 2 that he failed to collect. Stevens was thankful Lowry did not inflict more damage. The All-Star made five free throws in the opening minutes, and Stevens worried that would give him confidence. But he attempted just 10 shots in the game and scored 19 points.

Advertisement



Rozier had 16 points and six rebounds off the bench for the Celtics, and Stevens called his 3-pointers that ended the second and third quarters the biggest plays of the game.

Now the Celtics will travel to Brooklyn to face the plucky but overmatched Nets on Tuesday. Boston will be expected to win that game, and if it does, it will return home with a 13-game winning streak with the mighty Warriors waiting Thursday.


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.