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Celtics Win Streak Is Over, And Now They Face Their Toughest Tests Of Season

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- It was a lot of fun while it lasted, but the Celtics' win streak is over. The usual heroics that made up the streak were absent throughout Sunday's game with the Sacramento Kings, and in the end, the Celtics couldn't make up for an extremely lackluster effort against one of the NBA's most lackluster teams.

Now the team faces a little bit of adversity, with three of their toughest matchups of the season in front of them. But that adversity is much-needed for a team that needs a few good tests to show who they really are this season.

The Celtics didn't deserve to win Sunday's game in Sacramento. The Kings are not very good, and they were without their best player in De'Aaron Fox. It should never have come down to a last-second runner by Marcus Smart -- a shot that danced around the rim for a few seconds before painstakingly falling to the floor for a 100-99 defeat. But that was a bounce the Celtics didn't really deserve, a bounce they had gotten to fall their way a handful of times over the last few weeks.

This time, there was no late-game takeover by Kemba Walker, who finished with a goose egg in the final quarter. (He did, however, pass up on taking the final shot when it was clearly not there for him, something that was not present on last year's Celtics no matter who had the ball in their hands at the end of the game.) Boston tried to contain Buddy Hield to no avail, with the Sacramento sharpshooter torching them for 35 points on 14-for-24 shooting (including seven threes). And there were lapses aplenty for Boston, highlighted by a season-high 15 turnovers.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens borrowed the phrase he usually dishes out when his Celtics go on a winning streak, saying the team isn't as good as those 10 wins may have led people to believe. The Celtics also aren't as bad as they were Sunday, but dropping a game in such fashion will help them refocus on everything they need to improve on going forward.

"The streak put more emphasis on us to do things better," said Smart, who shot a dismal 2-for-16 on Sunday. "Although we don't want to lose, the loss is a good loss, brings us back down to earth."

Now, the Celtics need to bounce back against the toughest portion of their schedule to date. We'll learn a lot about their mettle Monday night, when they visit the surprising Phoenix Suns, who are an impressive 7-4 on the season. They're a physical group thanks to old friend Aron Baynes clogging the paint, and the Celtics will have their hands full with another professional scorer in Devin Booker. It's an extremely difficult matchup on the second leg of a back-to-back -- and their third game in four nights -- but Boston's effort against the Suns will be a much better indication of who they are than their defeat in Sacramento. Those kind of games happen throughout the 82-game schedule, but how a team bounces back will provide a glimpse of what they're made of. Even a hard-fought loss could go a long way in forming their identity.

That being said, the Celtics now face the real threat of suffering their first losing streak of the season. And if they drop Monday night's game in Phoenix, they could very well return home on a four-game skid, with tough matchups against the title-favorite Clippers and next-in-line Nuggets to close the trip.

But that's the kind of early season adversity you should want a team to face, and it's a challenge the Celtics are ready to try to conquer.

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