The Boston Celtics have earned three straight victories behind the strong play of several newcomers, but the league’s top team stands in the way of a fourth.
The Golden State Warriors head to Boston on Sunday night hoping to further re-establish their dominance following a convincing road win.
The wins have started to pile up for Boston (23-33) since acquiring Isaiah Thomas and Jonas Jerebko on Feb. 19. Thomas scored a team-high 28 on Friday, and Jerebko had 16 points and 10 rebounds as the Celtics beat Charlotte 106-98 to match a season-best three-game winning streak.
Thomas has averaged 22.3 points and 6.0 assists in four games with the Celtics, creating enough of an impact for Avery Bradley to call him the "spark."
"That’s pretty nice," Thomas said of his teammate’s praise. "But it’s not me – it’s this team. We’re playing hard, coach is putting us in position to be successful and that’s the key. We are believing in each other."
Jerebko has been equally effective in his two games with Boston, hitting 13 of 19 from the field. He preceded his 16-point performance against Charlotte with a season-high 20 in a win over New York. Jerebko averaged only 5.2 points in 46 games with Detroit.
After working with 22 different players this season, coach Brad Stevens believes he has finally found the right mix.
"We’ve had a lot of good additions, and we’ve got a group that supports each other," Stevens said prior to Friday’s win. "To me, as you’re growing in a place where improvement and development are so critical, you better be in a good environment. And I’m pleased with where we are from that regard."
Another victory Sunday would mark Boston’s eighth in 11 games and first four-game winning streak since Nov. 6-11, 2013.
While the Celtics try to chase down the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, Golden State (45-11) has built a sizable lead atop the West.
The Warriors, though, had lost two of three to begin a season-high six-game road swing, but they responded with a 113-89 blowout of Atlantic Division-leading Toronto on Friday.
"We’ve been a resilient team all year," star Stephen Curry said.
Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 47 points on 54.8 percent shooting after hitting 10 of 30 for 31 points in a 110-99 loss in Cleveland on Thursday.
The Warriors, who improved to 28-0 when holding the opposition under 100 points, had allowed an average of 107.0 on the first three games of the trip.
"It was very satisfying to come out and play the way we did on a back-to-back, coming off a national TV game against LeBron and all that stuff," coach Steve Kerr said. "It was an important effort."
Boston put a scare into Golden State on Jan. 25, but Thompson and Curry scored the Warriors’ final 13 points to secure a 114-111 win.
Jared Sullinger, who led the Celtics with 26 points in that matchup, will not play Sunday due to a foot injury. Kelly Olynyk, though, could return for the first time since spraining his right ankle on Jan. 22.
The Warriors are seeking their first four-game winning streak over Boston since Jan. 27-Feb. 10, 1962.