The Raptors limped into Wednesday night's tilt with the Celtics five games away from a shot at tipping off the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They looked underprepared and undermanned without star Chris Bosh.
The Celtics had the opposite problem — one guy too many.
Over the last two nights, the Raptors have seen their two best players go down with injuries just in time for the stretch run as they vie for the No. 8 seed in the East playoffs. First Bosh, who took a hard elbow to the face from Antawn Jamison on Tuesday night in a loss to the Cavaliers, then Hedo Turkoglu, who suffered a similar blow at the hand of Tony Allen.
The Raptors are on the verge of making the postseason, but they don't have the personnel to make any noise once they get there.
The Celtics, on the other hand, have only gotten deeper this spring, and they proved it on Wednesday night.
A month ago Wednesday, Michael Finley was watching from the end of the bench at the TD Garden as the Celtics came back to beat the Wizards on a cold Sunday night in Boston. Exactly 31 days have passed, and Finley is now a huge contributor for a Celtics team that is closing in on a No. 3 playoff seed.
Finley shot 5-of-7 from the field, 4-of-5 from 3-point range and finished with 14 points in the Celtics' 115-104 victory on Wednesday night. Couldn't really ask for a better backup — or a better partner in crime — for Ray Allen.
"Our shooting won the game for us tonight," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "You know, when Ray and Michael both get it going at the same time, when they're both on the floor, that makes us really good. Because we can still pound the ball down low, and it affects the other team's ability to take the low-post game away, because they're so worried about the guys out on the perimeter."
The Celtics had it all working in the second half. They were able to drive the lane and score since Bosh was out and the Raptors were depleted up front. They were also able to kick it out to the perimeter and get open shots, thanks in no small part to Toronto's sudden loss of Turkoglu.
At full strength, the Celtics would have had no trouble putting away this short-handed Raptors team. But these C's were even better than full strength. The addition of Finley a month ago was the icing on the cake. The extra credit.
"He's a pro," Rivers said of Finley. "He's the pro's pro. Even when he had it going, he still made two extra passes for other guys. It's tough to get him to take a bad shot. He's just so solid. He's such a great guy in the locker room. Like I said when we picked him up, even if he doesn't make a shot, he'll still be good for us. But the fact that he makes shots is really good for us."
For half a game, the Raptors hung with the Celtics, keeping things close despite Boston's clear man advantage. For the other half, the Celtics exposed the Raps for all their shortcomings.
They outhustled them, outworked them, outplayed them. In other words, they proved they were the more playoff-ready team.
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