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Seven things the Celtics should still be concerned about

Kyrie Irving (11) is averaging 6.7 minutes per game in the second quarter, his lowest of any period.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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The Celtics’ eight-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday night against the Pistons. It was tied for the longest winning streak in the NBA this season, and it certainly quelled the collective angst of the fan base after a disheartening 10-10 start.

Boston entered Monday night in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but it was just one game behind the fourth-place 76ers and 1½ games behind the Bucks and Pacers, who are tied for second. Even the first-place Raptors, who appeared ready to leave the rest of the conference choking on their exhaust, are just 3½ games ahead of the Celtics, a quite manageable deficit with 53 games remaining.


Nevertheless, the Celtics still have imperfections and concerns that may have been masked by the eight-game surge. Here are some of them.

Schedule matters

Boston’s once-slumbering offense has turned elite recently. Over the last 10 games, the Celtics have an otherworldly 119.2 offensive rating. To put that figure in perspective, during their four-year run of dominance, the Warriors have not finished a season with an offensive rating above 114.8.

Furthermore, the Celtics’ 15.8 net rating over their last 10 games is more than twice as great as the next closest team in the NBA during that span. Everything has been fixed. It is safe to come outside now.

Well, maybe. But there is no denying that the Celtics are in the midst of their softest stretch of the season. And it’s really not even close. Including their game against the lowly Suns on Wednesday night, 16 of their last 20 games will have come against teams with losing records. The only outliers were the Blazers, Raptors, Mavericks, and Pistons. And the Blazers, Mavericks, and Pistons are only a combined six games above .500.


It’s true that the Celtics’ surge against the bottom feeders could not have gone much more smoothly. And perhaps they found the rotations, rhythm, and confidence they needed to now do the same against the elite over a sustained stretch. But we just don’t know yet.

Al Horford’s knee

Horford has missed the Celtics’ last five games due to lingering soreness in his left knee, and the malady has caused him to miss a total of seven games this year. He has officially been diagnosed with patellofemoral pain syndrome, a common athletic injury caused by cartilage damage under the kneecap.

The primary treatment is rest, and the Celtics have insisted that they are erring on the side of caution. But Horford is a 245-pound basketball player who turns 33 years old in June and has logged a total of 28,321 minutes on that left knee in his career.

The Celtics had no issue getting past teams like the Hawks, Bulls, and Knicks without Horford. But his absence was glaring on Saturday, when Pistons big men Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond combined for 46 points, 28 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 blocks.

Even when Horford makes his healthy return, don’t be surprised to see the Celtics steal a few games to rest him when they have an opportunity. They will need him healthy to make a real playoff run.

Roster could get . . . too healthy?

Yes, we just said that Horford’s health is important. And it is. Barring a late change, if Horford returns on Wednesday the Celtics will finally have their full complement of players again. But during the winning streak, they were consistently shorthanded, with Horford (four games), Jaylen Brown (four), Aron Baynes (two), Gordon Hayward (two), and Kyrie Irving (one) all missing time.


With so many players out, it provided a bit more clarity for coach Brad Stevens and made rotation decisions easier. Players weren’t looking over their shoulders as much, wondering how short their run would be. Of course, the preference is generally to have as many healthy and able bodies as possible, but there is some danger that a player’s efficiency or satisfaction could dip along with a reduced role. Stevens will have to manage this.

3-point reliance

Sometimes it just seems as if the Celtics win games when they make their 3-pointers and lose games when they miss them. And that’s actually not far off. This season Boston has made 39.1 percent of its 3-pointers in wins and 31.5 percent of them in losses. It might seem that when the team is trailing it would fire up 3-pointers more frequently and less judiciously as they attempt to make a comeback, but the attempts are almost identical: 36.8 in wins and 36.1 in losses.


The Celtics have been one of the league’s most dominant teams in recent years when playing the second game in as many nights. Over the last three seasons, They had a 31-19 record in the second half of a back-to-back. But so far this year, they are just 2-4 in those games.


Scoring without Irving

The Celtics have made some strides in this area. Over their last nine games they have a 111.5 offensive rating when Irving is on the bench. That surge has raised the season mark without Irving to 102.4, which would still be just the 28th-best offense in the NBA on its own. Hayward’s presence on the second unit along with Brown should continue to provide more offensive balance. But the non-Irving minutes will be important moving forward.

Second quarters

The Celtics have been outscored by an average of 3 points per 100 possessions in the second quarter this year. It is the only quarter in which they have a negative net rating, and it’s not even close to the others, as their second-worst is plus-8.2 in the fourth. Irving is averaging 6.7 minutes per game in the second quarter, his lowest of any period.

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