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Celtics are left cold

New-look Raptors all have hot hands

TORONTO -- Despite the result, Celtics coach Jim O'Brien sort of smiled during his postgame press conference. It was a bemused look that hinted at the irony of Toronto's 105-95 victory over Boston.

What else could O'Brien do after watching the Raptors set a franchise record with 17 3-pointers? A season high for 3-pointers in the NBA in the second of back-to-back games? After all, Toronto entered the game statistically as the worst offensive team in the league. The Raptors ranked 29th in points per game, 29th in field goal percentage, and 20th in 3-point field goal percentage.

But last night at the Air Canada Centre, there was not much the Celtics could do given the Raptors' performance from the arc and not much they could say. When asked about specific moments, O'Brien correctly cut off the questioner.

"Any question you ask, I can answer it by saying, `They killed us with the threes,' " said O'Brien.

Still, the Celtics were never truly out of the game until later in the fourth quarter. Boston closed within 6 points (87-81) when Raef LaFrentz received the benefit of a goaltending call on rookie Chris Bosh with 6 minutes 51 seconds remaining. But on the Raptors' next possession, Alvin Williams found newcomer Donyell Marshall for a 3-pointer. Down the stretch, 3-pointers from Morris Peterson (15 points, 4 for 6 from the arc) and Marshall (21 points, 5 for 6 from the arc) propelled Toronto.

Vince Carter finished with 21 points (3 for 6 from the arc) and 10 assists.

Toronto reached the 100-point mark in regulation for the first time this season when Marshall hit a 3-pointer with 3:40 left. The basket pushed the Raptors ahead, 100-83, and brought the crowd of 18,552 to its feet. Before the deal Monday that brought Marshall, Jalen Rose (9 points), and Lonny Baxter north of the border, Toronto's basketball fans suffered through record-setting offensive lows, many of them occurring in the second of back-to-back games.

"That was the damnedest exhibition of shooting I've ever seen in my life," said O'Brien after watching Toronto make 71 percent of its 24 shots from the arc. "It was unexpected. Credit to them. [General manager] Glen [Grunwald] has really put together a team that's very, very difficult to guard. I thought our team really competed their guts out. I don't know if anybody could have beaten that team tonight with them shooting the way they did."

That said, the Celtics held the Raptors to 42 percent from the floor. Many of the 3-pointers were well challenged and generally left O'Brien without complaint. Boston also outrebounded Toronto, 44-39, and outscored the Raptors in the paint, 44-30. But all the hard work inside was essentially nullified by what happened on the perimeter. When the Raptors entered the break ahead, 51-43, with a franchise-record-tying nine 3-pointers for a half, it was clear the home team was headed for a special night.

The Celtics succeeded in making it a game again (briefly) during the third, after trailing by as many as 15 points early in the quarter. Boston closed within 2 (63-61) when Mike James hit a 3-pointer to cap a 14-1 run with 5:42 left in the period. But the Raptors naturally responded with 3-pointers and took a 79-69 lead into the fourth.

And as if the Raptors' shooting wasn't enough, they also tied a season high with 25 assists. Toronto also appeared to show a much-improved chemistry by the way they moved the ball; of Toronto's 17 3-pointers, all 17 came off assists.

"They moved the ball well and it's amazing because they just brought this team together no more than three or four days ago," said Paul Pierce (23 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists). "They seem like they've been playing together all year."

Added Rose: "The key for us is that we have fun playing with each other. We're pushing the ball a lot and we are playing with some excitement. Guys are willing to make the extra pass and feed off each other."

The Raptors' post-trade cohesion stands in marked contrast to the inconsistencies that have plagued the Celtics following the deal that sent Antoine Walker to Dallas. While Toronto (10-8) is enjoying an offensive turnaround, Boston (7-11) is struggling. The Celtics have now lost 7 of 9, including their last three.

Although the Celtics saw some positives last night, such as their defensive field goal percentage and the five players in double figures (Pierce, Vin Baker 17, Mark Blount 10, Marcus Banks 11, and LaFrentz 10), they desperately need a win to ease the frustration. But the Boston schedule only becomes tougher for the remainder of December with a heavy dose of Western Conference teams on tap.

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