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Celtics 81, Raptors 73

Wrapped up

Celtics end preseason with victory; Pierce’s status is still in the air

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By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / December 22, 2011
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The Celtics’ reserves had a final preseason showcase opportunity in an 81-73 win over the Toronto Raptors last night at TD Garden. And they showed most of the qualities coach Doc Rivers expected - spectacular athleticism combined with inconsistency.

The bench’s makeup has changed drastically since the beginning of a two-week training camp, the team losing Jeff Green to a heart problem, then having to adjust as backups Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic filled in for captain Paul Pierce (heel bruise), whose status has not been determined for the season opener at New York Sunday.

Brandon Bass (12 points) and Chris Wilcox (4 points, 4 fouls in 12 minutes) have increased the inside game’s aggression and quickness levels, and Greg Stiemsma added mobility and size underneath. Keyon Dooling presented a reliable alternative to Rajon Rondo at point guard, and the other reserve guards - Avery Bradley (1 for 10 shooting) and E’Twaun Moore (11 points) displayed flashes of effective play.

“Defensively, they’ll be good enough, I have no doubt about that,’’ Rivers said of the reserves. “Can we get enough scoring from our bench? Those are question marks going into the year.’’

Though the Raptors did not present a difficult test for the Celtics, Rondo showed signs of being in midseason form with 17 points and six assists in a 22:30 stint. Rondo scored 12 points as the Celtics took an 18-7 lead eight minutes into the contest.

The Celtics starters sat out most of the second half, Jermaine O’Neal leaving the court in the third quarter for the massage table.

“He’s old,’’ Rivers joked. “I didn’t want him falling asleep on the bench or anything. He said I want to get a massage and I said, ‘yeah, sure.’

“He looks great. What you saw is what he’s been all camp. Coming out of mini-training camp he was our MVP. He’s a rare bird; it’s rare you see a guy who blocks shots, takes charges. It’s just unusual.’’

Rivers decided to try both Daniels and Pavlovic in starting roles at small forward during the preseason. Pavlovic was in the starting lineup last night.

“If we had to play [a regular-season game], I would probably start Marquis,’’ Rivers said before the game.

But until Pierce returns and the bench becomes stabilized, it will be difficult to know what to expect from the backups.

“It’s kind of early to say, but I think a couple more games we’ll really know our identity,’’ Bass said. “And each player coming off the bench will know their role and the things they need to bring to the team to help us win.

“With Keyon, he’s a good leader, he’s vocal. I just think everyone is going to play with a whole lot of energy and feed off the first group. I think it’s going to be a group effort, everybody’s got to do what they’re best at when they come off the bench. I’m confident the bench will be able to score. We’ll defend first, and talk on defense.’’

Pierce’s status could be determined by tomorrow, Rivers said.

“With Paul, you just throw him out there and see what he can give you,’’ Rivers said. “He’s a gamer, he’s always been that. These are extraordinary circumstances, we’ve been in a lockout, two weeks together, and he’s been part of none of that. And we’re just going to throw him into a game when he gets healthy, it’s not a situation you want to be in. But when you are playing 66 games in 124 days you don’t have a choice. You can’t burn four or five games and see if he’s ready.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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