Celtics look to slow down streaking Spurs

BOSTON — Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford was impressed with what he saw from the San Antonio Spurs — sans the retired Tim Duncan — on Wednesday night in North Carolina.

“They have a guy who is an MVP candidate (Kawhi Leonard), Pau Gasol and Tony Parker who are probably Hall of Famers, (LaMarcus) Aldridge, who is a perennial All-Star and Danny Green who has been a starter on two championship teams,” Clifford said after losing to the Spurs 119-114. “Plus they have a guy (Gregg Popovich) who is maybe the best coach of our time — except for all that they're just OK.”

The Spurs, 8-0 on the road, 12-3 overall and winners of seven straight overall, visit the Boston Celtics in a Friday matinee that should cause people to interrupt looking for shopping bargains to watch.

San Antonio comes to Boston having beaten the Celtics nine straight times since Boston swept the two-game 2010-11 season series.

The Celtics are coming off a perfect 3-0 road trip, capped by Wednesday night's wire-to-wire win over the Nets in Brooklyn.

“For us to win three games in a row on the road and one of the games being a back-to-back, is big for us,” Boston's Avery Bradley said Wednesday. “I think it does a lot for our team, our confidence level.

“And not only that, but this might be our fourth game playing together as a team or fifth game with everybody, so I'm happy with how we're growing together every single game. Al (Horford)'s playing well, Jae (Crowder)'s playing well, everybody's just playing basketball.”

Both Horford (concussion) and Crowder (ankle) rejoined the team on this trip. And while defeating Detroit, Minnesota and Brooklyn on the road is hardly a reason to make plans for the NBA Finals, three road wins is three road wins — and the Celtics are 9-6 coming into this game.

Leonard is truly playing like an MVP for the Spurs. He scored 30 at Charlotte and is averaging 25.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game this season. His time has come.

The Spurs opened their current three-game trip with what Popovich called “a pathetic” 96-91 over the undermanned Mavericks in Dallas before winning at Charlotte. The trip ends Friday in Boston.

The Celtics, having an early holiday feast, waltzed all over the woeful Nets Wednesday night. They built an early 17-point lead, blew and then recovered to cruise.

“I think we played very well,” Marcus Smart said. “We came out really aggressive. We closed out well. That little hiccup we had, but other than that everything else was great.”

Having their entire roster on the floor, and having the players finally get to grow together, makes the picture brighter for Brad Stevens' team.

“There is more experience, more depth, more comfort to this team,” Smart said. “Everybody is ready to play now. Everybody is healthy. Like I said, everybody is clicking again.”

Now, if the Celtics can just figure out a way to end that long streak against the Spurs, perennial contenders in the NBA playoff picture … the model franchise of the NBA, with or without the great Duncan.