Kevin Garnett had a game-high 27 points and 10 rebounds for the streaking Boston Celtics (25-23), as they came into the Air Canada Centre and edged out the Toronto Raptors 99-95.
Rudy Gay had 25 points and 12 rebounds for the Raptors (17-32), who dropped to 8.5 games behind Boston for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.
The game saw the long-awaited return of big man Andrea Bargnani, a return about which many were skeptical, and for good reason. However, Bargnani came to play, potting 11 points at the half on four-of-five shooting. He finished with 13 points in 24 minutes off the bench.
The first half was relatively uneventful, with the main sparks being Bargnani’s smooth return and commentator Matt Devlin’s silly argument with Leo Rautins about the utility of blocked shots versus the importance of good fundamental defense (not surprisingly, Leo was espousing fundamentally sound defense).
Down by five at the half, the Raptors stormed back in the third quarter on the strength of 10 points from Kyle Lowry and a vibrant fast break offense. This high-flying transition game – played especially by athletic wings Gay, DeMar Derozan and Terrence Ross – is an aspect of this new look Raptor squad that looks to also be a consequence of Jose Calderon’s departure. The Raptors have no passing point guard at the moment, which might take some adjusting to before the Raptors develop an efficient half-court offense.
After closing the quarter strong to go up 79-69, the Raptors gave it all back, as the Celtics quickly erased the deficit and built a lead of their own. Gay started missing some shots and defense went out the window.
The Raptors had a chance to send the game into overtime, as they were down three with 40 seconds remaining. Pierce missed a running jumper at 18 seconds and Amir Johnson got the rebound. Unfortunately, his outlet pass to Derozan was rushed, resulting in the Raps’ 10th turnover. Jeff Green hit one of two free throws and Gay missed a runner in the ensuing possession, sealing the win for the Celtics.
Gay had 20+ for the third straight game, setting a franchise record for scoring in the first three games as a Raptor. However, he did take 24 shots and 8 free throws. Kyle Lowry had 17 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists, and Amir Johnson got 16 and 12, but it wasn’t enough. The Raptors didn’t have an answer for Kevin Garnett, with Aaron Gray only playing 20 minutes and hauling in just two boards.
The Celtics, meanwhile, won their fifth straight game without sidelined superstar Rajon Rondo in what continues to be an impressive run. Perhaps Rondo is overrated….? That debate is for another day.
The Raptors next play at Indiana on Friday.
Casey Sherman is a staff writer for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.