Kevin Garnett put up 27 points and 10 rebounds, posting his highest point total of the season. Paul Pierce chipped in in every area with 11 rebounds and six assists, making up for his rough 2-for-11 shooting night. Six players reached double figures for the Celtics, continuing their trend since Rajon Rondo went down for the season.
The Celtics won their fifth straight by sharing the ball (21 assists as a team), taking care of the ball (only 13 turnovers) and clamping down on defense (they held the Raptors to 41 percent shooting). Rudy Gay was the high man for the Raptors with 27 points.
Fourth quarter, :17.6, Celtics 97-93: Green had a chance to make this thing much less interesting, but he must enjoy keeping fans at the edges of their seats. After a tip-in by Gay, Pierce missed a contested jumper, but DeRozan lost the ball out of bounds. Green was fouled on the inbounds, then missed one of two free throws to give Toronto a slight chance unless Boston executes perfectly here.
Fourth quarter, :46.6, Celtics 96-91: If customs asks Garnett if he has anything to declare, he can respond: “Yeah. I didn’t want to lose tonight.”
Garnett has taken charge down the stretch. He has hit two big jumpers and also directed his teammates into the right places on offense. He has 10 rebounds to go along with 27 points, his highest point total of the season.
Fourth quarter, 3:12, Celtics 90-87: Pierce is once again having a tough night shooting-wise, but he is doing other things to give the Celtics a chance to win. Pierce grabbed his 10th rebound of the night and earned another trip to the foul line, where he has four of his 10 points.
The Celtics need those contributions. Barbosa is still playing his butt off, chasing down a loose ball in the corner that the Raptors curiously did not try to save, but he remains a liability on defense. Amir Johnson was the beneficiary of that when Garnett was forced to come over and help after Barbosa was beat defensively, leading to an easy dunk for the rotating Johnson.
Fourth quarter, 5:50, Celtics 86-85: Barbosa will not let the Celtics die. Yup, you read that right. The guy that could not crack the rotation before Rondo’s ACL injury is now carrying the Celtics after the team lacked any sort of energy earlier in the half.
Barbosa drained a three from the right wing after Green threw a skip pass from the left wing, and then rushed up court for an and-one layup the recapture the lead for the Celtics. Barbosa has 10 points in this quarter.
Fourth quarter, 9:50, Raptors 79-76: Hey, look. The Celtics really do have a pulse.
Barbosa, who has been criminally silent in this game, took and made his first shot of the game as he was fouled. The three-point play sparked a 7-0 run that culminated in a pull-up jumper by Terry on the break to make it a one-point game.
The Celtics’ four-game win streak is on the line with a showdown against the Lakers looming on Thursday. This is pretty much a must-win.
End of third quarter, Raptors 79-69: If you saw Rivers toward the end of that 17-4 run, you were lucky enough to see the closest thing possible to smoke literally coming out of a human being’s ears.
The Celtics did everything wrong in the final four minutes of the third quarter. They took bad shots, missed layups when they found them and scrambled directionlessly on defense. The worst moment was when nobody came to receive the inbounds pass after a made basket by Toronto; Terry had to fire a desperation pass to halfcourt, which was picked off and led to a three-point play.
Speaking of Terry, heading into the fourth quarter he has taken two shots and has zero points.
Third quarter, 4:02, Raptors 69-65: In one sequence, the Raptors summed up everything about why they are winning this ball game.
Lowry, all six feet of him, out-leveraged Green for an offensive rebound. The Toronto guard then fed Bargnani streaking to the hoop for a dunk. When point guards are beating out forwards for offensive boards, and Bargnani is attacking the hoop with abandon, it is safe to say the opponent is not playing tough.
Third quarter, 5:09, Celtics 65-62: Brandon Bass is playing with vigor, but not all of his teammates are following suit. Bass has 10 points, six in this quarter alone, but the Celtics are struggling to shake the Raptors. The Celtics have yet to force a Toronto turnover since halftime, and as a result their offense has ground into those halting halfcourt sets that never seem to lead to good things for them.
Halftime, Celtics 50-45: Led by Garnett, the Celtics found the flow they needed in the second quarter. They held the Raptors to only 40 percent shooting, leading to easier scoring chances for the Celtics as the Raptors scrambled back. Garnett tacked on eight points to bring his game-high scoring total to 14 points, and the Celtics shot better than 56 percent from the floor as a team.
Just as importantly, Pierce began to find his stroke. The captain did not score a field goal until he hit a 3-pointer with less than three minutes left in the first half. To that point, all his offense came at the charity stripe. But he added another three ball a few minutes later to help the Celtics take a six-point advantage, their largest of the game.
Bargnani scored all 11 of his points in the second quarter, and that also happens to be Toronto’s team high for the game.
Most encouragingly for the Celtics, they have 13 assists on 19 field goals and three players — Pierce, Garnett and Lee — already are in double figures.
Second quarter, 5:53, Raptors 36-33: We sure make a lot of fun of Bargnani around here, and most of it is deserved. (Honestly, a 7-footer whose best offensive weapon is his jumper and who does not do a whole lot defensively?) But he is making any of his critics look pretty silly in his first game back in almost two months.
Bargnani hit his first three shots, including a twisting layup in the post, to help the Raptors continue to hold of the Celts. Green, whose ability to defend fours is key to the Celtics’ long-term success without Rondo this season, is not having a great time trying to rein in Bargnani.
Second quarter, 8:52, Raptors 32-31: Of all the Celtics who need to be more aggressive, Jeff Green is at the top of the list. He was extremely passive in the first quarter and his first basket of the second quarter, an elbow jumper, was a passive shot.
To his credit, Green took the ball strong to the basket the next time he touched the ball, picking up a foul and dropping for foul shots. The Celtics need to shore things up defensively, though, as Green looked bad when he and Barbosa messed up a pick-and-roll, leading to a three-point play by Bargnani.
End of first quarter, Raptors 23-20: Anybody who claimed the Celtics are better without Rajon Rondo got a close look at why that assertion is bonkers. Without Rondo, the Celtics have to walk a very thin line of generating ball pressure and a transition game to beat any opponent. If they fail, they risk falling behind to teams like the Raptors.
The Celtics walked to right side of that thin line for the last four games, but in the first quarter in Toronto, they fell off to the wrong side. In spite of forcing four turnovers, a reasonable amount for one quarter, the Celtics never really got out on the run. They mostly played on their heels as the Raptors were the ones pushing the ball. When Lee, who has eight points, was not scoring on layups or floaters in transition, the Celtics had a tough time getting decent shots.
First quarter, 2:57, Raptors 17-14: These are the sorts of lulls Doc Rivers worries about, although at least in the last two games the Celtics waited until they had a big lead to suddenly go in the tank.
The Celtics seem to be a step slow against the up-tempo Raptors, who took their first lead of the game on a 3-pointer by Kyle Lowry. The Villanova product has been liberated by the Raptors trading Jose Calderone to Detroit, and the Raptors seem to be playing in his image: run, run, run.
First quarter, 5:59, Celtics 12-10: Rudy Gay is a perfectly decent player on a ridiculously expensive contract, and in some fans’ minds that overshadows his very real skills. He is showing those early against the Celtics, hitting two tough running jump shots to help the Raptors keep it early despite Kevin Garnett’s hot start.
Garnett has drilled three long jumpers to open the game, and none of them have come within a sniff of touching the rim. The Raptors are prone to gambling and defensive breakdowns, so forcing them to extend their defense will only lead to open lanes for dunks like the one Courtney Lee capitalized on moments ago.
6:20 p.m.: Kevin Garnett is not walking through that door — on his way to Denver.
Garnett reportedly used the power of his no-trade clause to shut down trade talks between the Celtics and Nuggets before it even started. As Garnett said at practice on Tuesday, he bleeds green, not the epileptic combination of neon they rock in Denver.
Much to the dismay of the Nuggets, Clippers and surely numerous other teams, Garnett will be wearing his favorite color in Toronto. Opposite him (off the bench, anyway) will be Raptors “big man” Andrea Bargnani, who has not played since Dec. 10. A torn ligament in his right elbow and a strained right wrist have caused the 27-year-old to miss the last 26 games.
The projected starting lineups appear below.
8 a.m. ET: The Raptors got a whole lot more interesting last week when the perennial Atlantic Division also-rans picked up Rudy Gay in a three-team trade with the Grizzlies and Pistons. They still sit comfortably outside the playoff picture — at 17-31, they are 7 1/2 games behind the Celtics in the race for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference — but they did begin Gay’s tenure by beating the Clippers and making things interesting for a while against the Heat.
The Celtics (24-23) are more vulnerable than their four-game win streak suggests. They admitted after Sunday’s victory over the Clippers that they let up after building a large lead, the second time in as many games that they have done so. The Celtics were guilty of that toward the end of their last win streak, which grew to six games before the uninspired play translated into a six-game losing streak. The new-look Raptors are just dangerous enough to halt the Celtics’ momentum if Paul Pierce and company do not keep up a reasonable level of play for 48 minutes.
The Celtics won their only meeting with the Raptors this season thus far, scoring a 107-89 victory at the TD Garden in November.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 7 p.m. ET.