With their last opponent missing the NBA’s reigning scoring champion, the Boston Celtics admitted they weren’t completely focused from the outset of a surprising loss.
They might have a similarly difficult time taking the Toronto Raptors seriously.
The Celtics’ eight-game winning streak over the Raptors is currently their longest against any opponent, but they may not have Rajon Rondo(notes) on Sunday afternoon at Air Canada Centre against a Toronto team undergoing an in-season makeover.
Boston (9-3) seemed to be in excellent shape to pick up a fourth straight win Friday night, when Oklahoma City came to TD Garden without both NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant(notes) and fellow starter Jeff Green(notes).
Two days after a 29-point win over a Washington team missing No. 1 pick John Wall(notes), the Celtics seemed stagnant from the opening tip. The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook(notes) had 31 points, outplaying Rondo in an 89-84 win that snapped Boston’s 5-0 start at home.
“We didn’t start the game with the right mindset,” said Celtics forward Paul Pierce(notes), who had 14 points and four turnovers. “We knew what they were going through. We kind of eased into the game.”
Garnett seemed fine, but Rondo is considered a game-time decision Sunday.
His absence would give Toronto (4-9) a better shot to extend its first winning streak of the season. The Raptors have won two straight - matching their victory total through their first 11 games - thanks to big fourth quarters.
On Wednesday, Sonny Weems(notes) had seven of his 25 points in the final 12 minutes, when Toronto outscored Philadelphia by 10 en route to a 94-86 victory. Two nights later, Linas Kleiza(notes) scored seven of his 17 in the fourth as the Raptors broke open a one-point game after three to win 106-96.
“We have got to stay positive and start winning and keep fighting,” Kleiza said after coming off the bench for a third straight game since Weems replaced him. “There is a lot of basketball left.”
Andrea Bargnani(notes) has averaged 28.0 points in the past two games, but Kleiza and the Toronto reserves have made a difference. The Raptors have had a 45-point edge in bench points in the two wins, outscoring Houston 46-11.
Toronto’s rotation is about to get a shakeup, however. The Raptors agreed Saturday to trade starting point guard Jarrett Jack(notes) and backups Marcus Banks(notes) and David Andersen(notes) to New Orleans for former All-Star Peja Stojakovic(notes) and Jerryd Bayless(notes).
Stojakovic, earning $14.25 million this season in the final year of his contract, had fallen out of the Hornets’ rotation. Bayless averaged 4.5 points and shot just 34.7 percent while backing up Chris Paul(notes).
Jose Calderon(notes), who was splitting time with Jack, is expected to move into the starting lineup. Stojakovic, whose expiring deal may be deemed more valuable than his on-court contributions, may get little time with Weems and Kleiza playing well.
It’s unclear if either Stojakovic or Bayless will be in uniform Sunday.
The Raptors could certainly use some sort of spark against Boston considering they’ve lost eight straight meetings.
Rondo averaged 21.5 points, 10.0 assists and 7.5 rebounds in the Celtics’ two wins in Toronto last season. Bargnani, meanwhile, has been held to 13.3 points per game and 33.8 percent shooting during the Raptors’ six-game home skid in the series.