BOSTON (AFP) – Al Horford scored a team-high 21 points in his return as the Boston Celtics played without Kyrie Irving but still managed to hang on for their 12th straight victory on Sunday.
The Celtics had to dig deep into the depths of their roster, as they have done throughout their winning streak, to defeat the Toronto Raptors 95-94 in front of a crowd of 18,600 at the Boston Garden.
Horford missed two games due to a concussion and his return was welcome news after all-star Irving suffered a facial fracture in Friday’s win over Charlotte when he was accidently struck in the mouth by a teammate.
Horford led five Celtics in double figures on Sunday as Jaylen Brown scored 18 points, Terry Rozier scored 16, Marcus Smart 14 and rookie Jayson Tatum delivered 13 points and seven rebounds.
The Celtics are the first team in NBA history with a double-digit win streak while having more than four rookies on their roster. Tatum is the most prominent of the six rookies contributing to the team’s remarkable early season success.
“It’s unbelievable … we are playing good teams too,” Rozier said.
The Raptors had a chance to win the game in the final seconds as DeMar DeRozan went one-on-one with Brown but his shot at the buzzer clanged off the rim.
Boston held on despite not scoring a basket over the final 86 seconds.
Guard Irving could return soon as he spent the weekend visiting a specialist to be fitted for a playing mask to protect the facial fracture which has been described as minor.
Doctors say there is no sign of a concussion, said coach Brad Stevens.
“The good news is thus far that’s the only point of pain in his face or head or neck or anything else,” said Stevens.
Irving scored a then-career-high 41 points the last time he wore a mask in December 2012 while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
DeRozan led the Raptors, who fell to 7-5 on the season, with 24 points for his seventh straight 20-point game.
“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.” Lowry scored 19 points and dished out seven assists and CJ Miles was the only other Raptor in double figures
with 10 points.
Lowry passed Andrea Bargnani to move into fourth place on the Raptors’ all-time scoring list.