10/30 Game Preview: Spurs at Celtics

BOSTON — On Jan. 5, 2011, Rajon Rondo had a triple-double of 23 assists, 12 points and 10 rebounds, and the Boston Celtics defeated the San Antonio Spurs 105-103 in a matchup of teams with the NBA’s two top records.

That was the last time the Spurs lost in Boston.

In fact, San Antonio comes into TD Garden on Monday night with 11 straight wins over the Celtics. But this visit comes with San Antonio’s roster still short-handed.

In addition, the Spurs took their second consecutive loss Sunday at Indiana after opening the season with four straight wins.

It’s not as if the Celtics are fully healthy, having lost new signee Gordon Hayward for the season in the first quarter of the first game. Marcus Morris has been targeting this game as a return from knee injury, but he isn’t likely to play.

For San Antonio, mainstays Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker have yet to play this season because of quad problems.

Parker is eyeing late November to come back from a quad tendon tear sustained in last year’s playoffs, but Leonard is closer to day-to-day, getting scratched as each game approaches.

As of Sunday night, following San Antonio’s 97-94 loss in Indiana, there was still no plan of action — or return to action — regarding Leonard, who figures to be an MVP candidate but has to play to do that. Last week, coach Gregg Popovich was asked about Leonard possibly returning in early November, a month that starts Wednesday.

“Sure, anything is possible,” Popovich said. “But I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about when somebody is going to come back. Because they are going to come back when they are ready, when the docs say they are ready. So when that happens, that happens.”

Popovich needs one win to tie Phil Jackson for sixth place on the career NBA coaching victory list, but the Spurs lost their past two games at Orlando and at Indiana. Getting that win Monday night figures to be tough as the Celtics have bounced back from the two-game trauma of losing Hayward to post four consecutive wins.

Boston is coming off sweeping a two-game trip to Milwaukee and Miami.

Right in the middle of everything has been rookie Jayson Tatum.

Back on Sept. 18, Celtics president Danny Ainge said he didn’t expect the third pick in the draft to play enough to be a legitimate candidate for the Rookie of the Year award.

Ainge traded down two spots and raised a few eyebrows doing it so he could get Tatum out of Duke, but the team’s depth pointed to a reserve role for the 19-year-old.

Then, Morris couldn’t open the season because of a knee injury. Hayward was lost, probably for the year, with a gruesome ankle/leg injury, and Marcus Smart missed a couple of games with injuries to both ankles.

Enter Tatum, is more than holding his own.

He scored 20 points and grabbed five rebounds Saturday in Boston’s 96-90 win at Miami.

“It will be unlikely that Jayson is Rookie of the Year because it will probably come from a team that starts their rookies and plays them 35 minutes per night,” Ainge said in September.

But here they are, six games into the season, and Tatum is averaging 32.7 minutes per game. In the first two games, he played more minutes than any Celtics rookie since Dave Cowens in 1970.

Tatum is averaging 15.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He is shooting 50.9 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3-point range. He is making 86.2 percent of his free throws and leads the team in free-throw attempts.

Morris said last week that he wanted to return to play against the Spurs, but coach Brad Stevens said Saturday, “I don’t know that he will play Monday, but he’s getting a lot closer. That’s good.”

The Celtics remain home to face the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. Following the game in Boston, the Spurs head home to play the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

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