While many expected the Boston Celtics to fall off the map after losing Rajon Rondo to a season-ending injury, they've instead picked up the pace in a big way.
The Celtics hit the road seeking a fifth consecutive win Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors, who could have Andrea Bargnani available for the first time in nearly two months.
Sitting in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, Boston (24-23) has yet to lose since Rondo tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The Celtics have averaged 100.5 points - 5.0 more than their season mark - during the four-game win streak.
They're averaging 24.8 assists in that span, even better than their season mark (23.2), despite being without the league leader in that category. Rondo was handing out 11.1 per game.
"I'll tell you the truth, I didn't even know we won four in a row. I just know that we have been moving the basketball, playing as hard as (we can)," said Kevin Garnett, whose team had dropped six straight before this run. "The normalcy of not having him here is starting to set in, so guys kind of know that they are going to play and being prepared for that.
"We're going to take it one game at a time and continue to ... consolidate that responsibility through everybody."
The Celtics did just that in Sunday's 106-104 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. At least five Boston players scored in double figures for the third straight game as Paul Pierce led the way with 22, including a clutch 3-pointer to put Boston up five with three seconds left.
"A lot of people say that we don't have a chance to go to the playoffs, we can't do this, we can't do that," guard Avery Bradley said. "We know we have each other and we're going to go out there and fight for each other, no matter what, every single night."
Boston has taken 18 of 22 in this series, including a 107-89 win Nov. 17 in the only meeting this season behind Rondo's 20 assists. The Celtics, though, have dropped three of four in Canada, including losses in their last two visits while averaging 76.5 points.
The last-place Raptors (17-31) have dropped nine of 12 but could get a boost from Bargnani, who has missed 26 games since tearing an elbow ligament Dec. 10. The former No. 1 overall pick was averaging 16.0 points, and while it may take him some time to get back into the swing of things, he could eventually form a potent 1-2 punch with recently acquired Rudy Gay.
Gay, who came over from Memphis in a three-team trade last week, led the Raptors to a 98-73 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers with 20 points off the bench in his team debut Friday. He scored a season-high 29 two nights later in a 100-85 loss to Miami.
"I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent comfortable," said Gay, averaging 20.9 points over his last nine games versus Boston. "I'm still feeling my way out there. I still think this is a game we could've won. We still have a couple things to iron out in practice."
DeMar DeRozan, who had 27 points against the Heat while going a career-best 14 for 14 from the free-throw line, is averaging 23.3 in his last three home matchups against the Celtics.
Boston has dropped three straight road games and 11 of 14.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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