Rapid Reaction: Raptors 84, Celtics 79
HOW THE GAME WAS WON
DeMar DeRozan scored a game-high 22 points, making all 13 free throws he attempted, including some clutch ones down the stretch as the Raptors held off Boston's feverish late rally. Paul Pierce scored a team-high 18 points for the Celtics, 10 of those points coming in the fourth quarter as he tried to carry Boston back into the game after a cringe-worthy third frame. Pierce had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds but misfired badly on a forced 3-pointer from the left wing. Kevin Garnett finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, but it was a forgettable effort from Boston on the first night of a back-to-back-to-back.
This one looked like it was going to be a laugher for Boston. The Raptors shot 18.2 percent (4-of-22) in the first quarter, while Boston opened a seven-point lead after one frame. The Celtics then ran with a second-quarter lineup of Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic, Mickael Pietrus and Ryan Hollins and actually extended their lead to as much as 13. But even with a double-digit lead as the starters returned to the floor, Boston went cold and ultimately got outscored 27-11 in the third quarter to turn the game around. Toronto eventually led by as many as 15 in the fourth quarter, and it was too much for the Celtics to overcome.
BOLD PLAY OF THE GAME
The Celtics scored eight first-quarter buckets and Rondo assisted on seven of them. Two in particular stood out, both feeds to Avery Bradley. Boston's backcourt tandem first teamed up on a little alley-oop lob with Bradley skying high from the right side before throwing it down. A minute later, with Bradley running the floor in transition and swooping in from the right baseline, Rondo threaded the needle, leading to a reverse layup and a 19-11 lead with 1:24 to go in the frame. That really should have been enough to put Boston on cruise control, but the car veered off the road in the middle frames.
RONDO EXTENDS HIS STREAK ... BARELY
Despite those seven first-half helpers, Rondo didn't get No. 10 until there was a mere 2:14 to play in the game, when he Pierce on a reverse layup. Rondo finished with 12 assists, extending his double-digit streak to 20 games. What's more, Rondo didn't turn the ball over in 37:16 of floor time, yet the Raptors still found a way to rally back in this game.
The Celtics can take a tiny bit of solace in the fact that the Philadelphia 76ers continue to stumble their way to the regular-season finish line, dropping a 95-89 decision in New Jersey (where Boston visits Saturday night). That means Boston is still up three games over both Philly and New York in the Atlantic Division with seven games to go. Maybe more important to Boston's playoff future, the Hawks stomped the Magic, 109-81, giving Atlanta a one-game edge in the race for home-court advantage in a potential 5-seed vs. 4-seed playoff matchup. Meanwhile, the Pacers throttled the Cavaliers, tightening their grasp on the No. 3 seed with a three-game edge over Boston.
WHAT IT MEANS
This wasn't the way the Celtics wanted to start this grueling stretch of five games in five cities over six days. With the lead early on, it looked like Boston might breeze by the D-League-caliber lineup Toronto trotted out. Instead, the Celtics' starters sleepwalked through the middle quarters and paid the price when their jumpers wouldn't fall (especially the 3-pointers, on which Boston was 4-of-19 overall, 21.1 percent). Boston went 10 deep for a change, but didn't get to utilize its depth after the second quarter. Yes, after seven playoff-caliber foes in a row, the Celtics played down to the Raptors and suffered a loss because of it. Maybe it'll help promote rest in future games: The No. 3 seed is slipping away and the team remains comfortably entrenched at No. 4.
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