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Celtics 110, Raptors 101

Redeeming quality

Celtics avenge recent setback to the Raptors

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / November 27, 2010

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It was one of those restless nights where Kevin Garnett tried to count sheep to get some shut-eye and all the sheep looked like Andrea Bargnani.

“I didn’t get much sleep,’’ Garnett said.

Not much time had passed since the Celtics absorbed a loss to the Raptors Sunday that was as surprising as it was embarrassing, a shock to the ego of a team that had started the season well, despite a rash of injuries.

Bargnani had 29 points. Amir Johnson had a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds). Of Toronto’s six wins, it was easily the biggest, and Garnett was personally insulted.

It stuck with Garnett from the time he left the floor to the moment he stormed out of visitors’ locker room at Air Canada Centre.

“You could see it,’’ Garnett said. “Their swag was high. But you’ve got to see us in a couple days. You make your bed, you’ve got to lie in it.’’

The wait was just five days, and in last night’s 110-101 win, Garnett did everything he could to erase what happened Sunday.

He skied for alley-oops, flushing them with visible aggression. He thumped his chest, barked at the bench. He turned everything into a battle, fighting with Bargnani over foot position as they lined up for a jump ball. He finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, and Bargnani and Johnson (11 points each) were both hushed by comparision.

“Kevin’s energy was off the charts,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “And you knew it would be, if you know Kevin. Because the last time we played them, the guy in his position had a pretty good game.’’

Rivers did his part to push Garnett’s buttons, pulling him aside before the game.

“I take defense very seriously,’’ Garnett said. “This wasn’t a one-on-one situation — and I don’t want Bargnani to take this the wrong way, but if he does, [forget] it, I’m being honest — I get up for that.

“Every night I have a matchup I take that seriously. I don’t overlook a guy. Bargnani’s a very, very good player in our league. He’s going to be a premier player to come, but I was motivated more than one way tonight.’’

Rivers couldn’t argue with the results.

“I mean, I don’t know how many dunks he had, but he was just athletic tonight,’’ Rivers said. “And he’s been that way all year, so it was good.’’

On the whole, the Celtics’ antennae were up every second, even if their manpower wasn’t. They piled the lead high early, going up by 14 in the first quarter on Rajon Rondo’s alley-oop to Garnett. The Raptors chipped away in the second quarter, but the Celtics stretched their advantage in the second half, going up 21 in the fourth quarter on a Glen Davis jumper. When the Raptors threatened to tear that lead down, the Celtics stood firm.

Rondo laid in a lob pass from Paul Pierce with 1:07 left, putting the Celtics up 107-97. Rondo, who sat out three games with a strained left hamstring, dished out 14 assists in his first game back. He had a helper on eight of the Celtics’ first 11 baskets.

The Celtics dominated the paint, outscoring the Raptors, 64-44. Shaquille O’Neal, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter, had 16 points and finished a rebound shy of his third straight double-double.

“We watched the tape and understood where our advantage is,’’ said Pierce (18 points, 7 of 9 from the free throw line). “We felt like we could attack them inside, get them in foul trouble, get some easy baskets, especially for Kevin, Shaq. We feel like we’ve got that advantage on most nights, so you know that’s the game plan night in and night out and it makes life easier on me and Ray [Allen] when we can get the ball inside to these guys.’’

Coming full-circle so quickly will at least give Garnett a chance to rest easy the next couple of nights. The Celtics don’t play again until Tuesday at Cleveland.

“We needed this win,’’ Garnett said. “I think we looked at the loss up there as one that we gave away and that stuck with us all the way to tonight.’’

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