Rejuvenated Raptors rip depleted Celtics
Despite sprained knee ligaments and ankles, bruised and sore lower backs, and one left foot stress reaction, the Celtics' injured players were quick to rise from the bench and offer encouragement, instruction, and high-fives to their teammates healthy enough to take the floor at TD Banknorth Garden last night. Between Paul Pierce, Wally Szczerbiak, Brian Scalabrine, Delonte West, and Theo Ratliff, the Celtics were never short on support. For almost three quarters, it seemed the Celtics could will themselves to victory.
But hustle and aggressiveness could not make up for what the Celtics lacked in execution and number of players. Boston dressed nine and started a lineup with an average age of 22 years 81 days. The youth and inexperience showed as the Celtics committed 22 turnovers (leading to 23 points) and shot 40 percent. In the end, those were the numbers that mattered most as the Celtics dropped a 95-86 decision to the Toronto Raptors.
"I was proud of the effort," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I thought everyone who came in really helped . . . We can get better execution. [Twenty-two] turnovers is way too much for us. We're not good enough offensively to turn the ball over 22 times."
That is especially true with offensive producers Pierce, Szczerbiak, West, and Tony Allen sidelined. While Rajon Rondo (23 points, five assists) and Allan Ray (11 points, all in the first half) did their best to make up for the absences on offense, and Leon Powe (career-high 12 rebounds) tried to do the same on the glass, it was a near-impossible task. Once the Celtics fell behind by double digits late in the third quarter, they could not summon enough offense to make a big comeback.
The Raptors (17-20) pulled away late in the third, closing the quarter with a 16-6 run. There were turnovers and missed shots by Boston, and made 3-pointers by Toronto as the home team fell further and further behind. Andrea Bargnani pushed Toronto ahead for good with a 3-pointer that started the run. Anthony Parker capped it with another 3-pointer as the Raptors took a 67-56 lead with 33.9 seconds remaining in the quarter.
"We weren't playing the way we wanted to," said Toronto's Chris Bosh (27 points, eight rebounds). "Shots weren't falling for us, and in the third quarter we just kind of regrouped. We just looked everybody in the eye. We really needed this game, so we got back together and did the simple things that got us the lead."
The Raptors extended their advantage to a game-high 17 points on a few occasions early in the fourth quarter. The Celtics (12-23) were hurt by shots outside (more 3-pointers from Bargnani and Parker) and inside (layups by Bargnani, Parker, and Bosh). But showing admirable spirit, the Celtics rallied and closed within 5 (85-80) with an 8-1 run. With the exception of the 19-footer from Ryan Gomes that capped the run, Rondo scored all of the points.
At the other end, a 3-pointer by Jose Calderon put a quick end to any Boston celebrations. The Celtics still clung to hope when Gerald Green knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:23 remaining, but Toronto responded with a dunk by Bosh.
"It was kind of weird because certain guys do certain things," said Kendrick Perkins. "It's a challenge playing with the rookies because they haven't gotten that much playing time. They come out and do some things well, but we all come out and do some bad things, too."
In the first half, there was more good than bad despite a lot of turnovers. The Celtics kept the game close, entering intermission trailing, 41-40. Even though the slow pace early wasn't entertaining, the character displayed by the youngsters gave the crowd of 17,191 something to cheer.
That was especially true when Boston staged a 17-5 run in the second quarter. Bosh inadvertently sparked the run when he was called for a taunting technical after a dunk. Sebastian Telfair converted the free throw, then Powe stole the ball and Ray drove for a layup.
Coming off the bench, Ray looked more comfortable than he has all season. With 3:05 left in the second quarter, Ray capped the run with a reverse layup on a possession that again started with a steal from Powe. The basket pushed Boston ahead, 39-34, which is where it stayed until T.J. Ford knocked down a 12-footer with 45.5 seconds left in the quarter.
"What we've got to do is just go out there and compete, play hard, and try to get some wins," said Gomes (8 points, six rebounds). "I know we're shorthanded right now, but we're all here to play. We want to play and guys are getting the opportunity now."
No one said that opportunity would be easy, especially not tonight when the Celtics face the Detroit Pistons on the road.
Shira Springer can be reached at email@example.com.