Youth is served up at game’s end
TORONTO - There was no wavering by Celtics coach Doc Rivers as the Raptors sliced into his team’s 12-point lead in the fourth quarter of yesterday’s exhibition game at Air Canada Centre.
Rivers was going to let the youngsters handle the situation and leave the veterans on the bench to serve as cheerleaders.
What appeared like it would be an easy Boston win suddenly turned tense late. The Raptors, undergoing yet another rebuilding project with new coach Dwane Casey, were gaining momentum, trying to steal one from the mighty Celtics.
The Raptors will have to be satisfied with a moral victory, though, because four rookies and a barely second-year veteran helped the Celtics seal a 76-75 triumph. E’Twaun Moore, a second-round pick who may prove the steal of the 2011 draft, drained two jumpers down the stretch, and Greg Stiemsma, fresh from Sioux Falls of the NBADL, tipped in his own miss for the winning basket.
Rivers smiled all the while, and Kevin Garnett pumped his fists after the Raptors failed to score in the final seconds.
“You couldn’t ask for a better situation,’’ said Rivers, who used 13 players. “I could see the game getting closer with about seven minutes left. You could see they were making a run and I thought, ‘Well, this is a great time to call the young guys in to see if they could hold the lead and withstand their rush.’ You can see why we like E’Twaun.’’
The Celtics lineup at game’s end was Moore, JaJuan Johnson, free agent rookies Gilbert Brown and Stiemsma, and second-year guard Avery Bradley. Toronto was playing its regulars.
Moore drained a 19-footer with 1:51 left to give the Celtics a 72-71 lead and added a 20-footer 32 seconds later to produce a 3-point lead. Toronto responded with two baskets, setting up Stiemsma’s tip with 12.6 seconds left. The youngsters stifled Toronto on the final play, with Bradley forcing Jose Calderon to pass to a covered DeMar DeRozan, who missed a 10-footer. Andrea Bargnani missed the putback as the buzzer sounded.
“I was definitely confident,’’ Moore said. “I’m just telling myself I can come and play with these guys each and every day and just trying to stay humble and stay hungry.’’
The Celtics haven’t made it official, but they are expected to void the one-year, $9 million contract of Jeff Green, who is out for the season because of a heart ailment, and retain Green’s rights for next year as a restricted free agent.
If the team was to apply for an injury exception, it would have to pay Green’s salary and an additional player up to $4.5 million as the exception.
Being a luxury tax team, the Celtics also would pay at least another $13.5 million because they are over the tax threshold, so that could be a $27 million hit for a $4.5 million player.
The Celtics are expected to seek roster help via a veteran minimum contract.
Paul Pierce (sore right heel) and Sasha Pavlovic (injured left wrist) stayed in Boston. Jamal Sampson, a non-roster invitee, was not with the team because of personal reasons . . . Rajon Rondo played 27 minutes despite a sprained right ankle and contributed eight assists. But he also missed seven shots, mostly jumpers . . . Johnson did not appear until seven minutes were left, and he played the rest of the way. He missed his only shot and committed an offensive foul. Said Rivers, “The other guys [ahead of him] are pretty good - [Brandon] Bass, Kevin [Garnett]. We need to get them first. It’s great to want the young guys to play, but we’ve got two preseason games. We don’t have [much] time. He’ll get his chance.’’ . . . Garnett played 24 minutes (9 points, seven rebounds) and looked tired during stretches. Rivers said he will play Garnett in five-minute stretches this season . . . Ray Allen led Boston with 12 points.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.