OKLAHOMA CITY — The biggest addition in the offseason for the Boston Celtics was Al Horford. When they swiped him from the Atlanta Hawks, the Celtics quickly gained the high expectations of competing with the top teams in the East.
However, whenever the Celtics take on squads considered to be potential title contenders this season, they came up short in games against the likes of Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio and Houston.
That steak was extended to 0-6 on Friday after a 101-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
While the Celtics (13-10) refuse to make excuses for the defeats, except pointing fingers at their own play, there are reasons why they haven’t been at their best against the best. Injuries to key players early in the season played a role.
Horford missed games against the Cavaliers and Warriors. Jae Crowder was on the bench in street clothes right next to him. Against the Raptors, guard Isiah Thomas sat out as he nurses a groin pull.
Publicly, Boston coach Brad Stevens is trying to convey the positives of having his best players miss games in that it gives role players an opportunity to play big minutes.
“It’s always tough because you’re kind of always managing a curveball here or there,” Stevens told reporters. “But I look at it as a good thing in the long run with regard to more people are getting opportunities. And maybe this expedites Jaylen Brown’s learning curve, expedites Terry Rozier’s learning curve. They’re getting to see things and go through things and do things that maybe they don’t get as much when we’re fully healthy. It is what it is. You prepare with who you have available and you move forward.”
Thomas has already been ruled out of Boston’s game with the Oklahoma City Thunder (14-9) on Sunday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. But, while the Thunder may not be considered one of the best teams in the NBA, they have a player who is making a claim to be considered the best in the league in Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook has a streak of seven consecutive triples-doubles, which ties him with the modern record of Michael Jordan in the 1988-89 season.
However, with his last triple-double coming in a loss, Westbrook had no interest in talking about tying Jordan. His opponents had no problem discussing the feat.
“You could just make a whole documentary about him,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “With his energy level and the way he’s playing and what he’s doing for this team, it’s remarkable. When I’m not coaching against him, it’s fun to watch, but it wasn’t much fun tonight.”
The Celtics lay claim to having the longest streak in the NBA of not allowing a triple-double. The last player to earn a triple-double against Boston was John Wall in 2014.
“He’s an animal. Everybody in this league knows Russ is an animal,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told ESPN.com. “He deserves the respect he gets. He earns it. With a guy like that, you just have to go out and play your best and hope to contain him. You know he’s going to get his. You just have to stop those other guys.”
If Boston is able to slow down Westbrook, the Thunder needs to see more of the Steven Adams that they saw Friday. He set a career high with 24 points, yet didn’t play down the stretch because coach Billy Donovan wanted to use Jerami Grant.
Adams said a lot of his points were due to the attention given to Westbrook.
“They always do send two guys. They always try and put two guys on Russ, three guys, whatever,” Adams said. “The reason I got open was that their weakside wasn’t actually pulling across like other teams would do. That allowed me to roll down the lane without being touched at all. I was getting free runs.”