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CELTICS 91, RAPTORS 89

All wrapped up

Celtics ensure three-game win streak with strong fourth against Toronto

Before last night's game, Doc Rivers spoke of his team's tough win 48 hours earlier against the Milwaukee Bucks. What made it special, he suggested, was that the Celtics had managed a victory despite not playing very well.

He could have saved the material for his postgame summation as well. This was another hold-your-nose-and-swallow job.

"Again, we didn't play great," Rivers said, after the Celtics persevered for a 91-89 victory before 15,201, many of them to see Toronto rookie (and Concord, N.H., native) Matt Bonner. "But you've got to fight it. And we did."

This was certainly not a game to showcase anything other than sheer determination, for that's what pulled the Celtics through. They didn't shoot well (42.3 percent). They got outrebounded, again (49-41). They had too many turnovers (19). They boinged four straight free throws in the final 16.5 seconds. They never led until the fourth quarter. Gary Payton went scoreless in 33 minutes (and Rivers was a lot more concerned about the minutes than the point total).

But, hey, they were playing Toronto, so none of that mattered.

It was the Celtics' third straight win and gives them a little oomph as they head West for the first of a five-game road trip tomorrow night in Sacramento. They won't be back here again until Dec. 15, by which time, as Mark Blount noted, "our true character will come out."

Blount had the game's biggest hoop -- and the last one for Boston. With the game knotted at 87, the Celtics center swooped in and guided a Paul Pierce miss into the basket with 33.4 seconds to play. That made it a season-high 22 points for Blount, who Wednesday had his season high (16) in rebounds.

But there was plenty of suspense remaining. Pierce (20 points) made two freebies (following a traveling violation on Bonner) with 23.7 seconds left to make it 91-87. The Raptors got a quick hoop from Donyell Marshall to make it 91-89 with 18.6 seconds left, and the Celtics called time. Out of the break, the wrong player (Blount) made the inbounds pass to the wrong player (Tony Allen), and the Celtics rookie proceeded to brick two freebies. But Marshall couldn't squeeze the rebound and the Celtics retained possession with 15.7 seconds left.

Then, Toronto fouled Pierce. He, too, missed them both, with 14.7 seconds left.

"You go crazy inside, but there's nothing I can do about it. They did the right thing by getting to the line," Rivers said. He's right about that. The Celtics attempted 33 free throws to Toronto's 15.

But there was still a 2-point lead to protect and plenty of time for Toronto. The once-mighty Vince Carter tried to score inside, but was swallowed up by Raef LaFrentz (14 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks). Carter, whose winning trey here a while back set off Rick Pitino's famed "the negativity in this town" tirade, was barely visible, going 5 of 17 for 12 points in 37 minutes. Then, with time winding down, Payton stripped the ball from Jalen Rose and time expired.

"It was an ugly game," said Payton, who went 0 for 6 from the field. He went scoreless once last season, but that was more in character; he was ejected after only nine minutes. "We didn't play well. I'll just say that."

If this sounds a lot like Wednesday night, well, it was. "We grinded it out," Rivers said. There was no controversy between Pierce and Rivers, although Pierce got the early seat because of foul trouble. The Raptors got 17 points and 11 rebounds from Marshall, and 19 points from Rose.

The Raptors played an excellent first half, leading by as many as 14 points, as Bonner put on a shooting clinic in the second quarter that made you think he had been secretly raised by marksmen in Vilnius instead of Concord. The kid had 10 points in the quarter -- he was Toronto's leading scorer at the half -- and four of the five hoops were 20-footers.

Bonner had an Iversonian following, complete with banners and signs. He hit his teammates up for 16 tickets and the good hoop fans of the Granite State did the rest. "I can't take care of the whole state. There are more than 16 people in New Hampshire," he said.

The Celtics didn't take their first lead until Ricky Davis (13 points) dropped a trey with 8:53 remaining to make it 73-72. There were two more ties and two more lead changes the rest of the way, with the biggest lead being 4 points. It all came down to the final minute, just like Wednesday, and, again, the Celtics got by. Barely.

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