Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Raptors turn out the lights

TORONTO -- Only the day before, Paul Pierce joked about the lack of luster and sizzle here now that Vince Carter is gone. "They've got Morris Peterson," Pierce said.

He was joking. He proved prophetic.

Peterson lit up the Celtics for a career-high 37 points last night, sending the Celtics to a 104-93 setback before an appreciative, if un-Vince-like, gathering of 15,108 at the Air Canada Centre. Peterson may lack the star appeal or the cachet of Carter, but he was downright destructive last night, dropping seven treys on the beleaguered Boston defense, which once again allowed triple figures.

An exasperated Pierce said afterward, "This is the first time in my Celtics career that we've given up so many 100-point games. Even Rick Pitino wouldn't give up 100."

For the record, the Raptors' effort was the 24th time in 36 games that the Celtics have surrendered 100 or more points. Boston is 8-16 in those games. They've given up 100 or more in 15 of their last 17 games. Raptors newcomer Eric Williams, who was one of the mainstays in Boston when the Celtics actually played defense, said, "You've got a lot of young guys out there running around. A team has to come together to win games."

Did he think Jim O'Brien would reach for the hemlock with a defensive effort like that?

"No question," Williams said.

The Celtics didn't just pad Peterson's resume. Eastern Conference Player of the Week Chris Bosh went for his career high as well, scoring 26 points, 14 of which came from the line. Bosh also added 11 rebounds. But the long ball killed the Celtics. Toronto made 14 treys, including a franchise-record 10 in the first half. The Raptors shot better from international waters (48.3 percent) than from inside the arc (40.9 percent).

"I thought they really outplayed us," lamented Doc Rivers, who saw his team drop four games below .500 and to 5-14 on the road. "I thought they came to play."

The Celtics got 23 points from Pierce, while Ricky Davis added 22, including 12 in the fourth when he single-handedly tried to win the game. "I was feeling great. I was on fire," Davis said. But his last two shots came up short and he added a turnover for good measure as the Celtics managed only a single basket -- a meaningless hoop by Kendrick Perkins -- in the final 4:27.

Weren't these the games the Celtics highlighted not long ago as ones they should win -- would win -- to get themselves back into the Atlantic Division race, such as it is? (Pierce called the division "the worst in NBA history" after the game.) Weren't they going to beat the Torontos and Chicagos to make a move?

"We're not a playoff team," hissed Pierce afterward. "We're young and we're growing and learning, but we've got a long, long way to go. Everyone on this team, me included, has to look in the mirror and check themselves one time."

Said Davis, "It's tough. We were getting ahead of ourselves and we're not finishing games."

They're not starting them too well, either. As Rivers accurately put it, "We laid an egg in the first half." It was a Brontosaurus special. Peterson had matched his season high of 21 at the break, which included a desperation, two-handed trey from Missasauga to beat the shot clock on one possession. Toronto led, 59-49, at the half, shooting 52.5 percent and collecting 19 assists for 21 baskets. You could say they had it going -- and the Celtics had it in neutral.

Rivers got nothing from the rooks when he went to his bench. Al Jefferson couldn't find the basket (0 for 6) and Tony Allen ended up playing only eight minutes. Rivers eventually turned to Walter McCarty -- "I was desperate," the coach said -- to get some kind of energy. McCarty played 20 consecutive minutes and Rivers apologized afterward for playing him too much. Said Waltah, "I'll take all that I can get."

As much as they couldn't stop Peterson or Bosh, the Celtics still hung around and were down by only 6, 97-91, after Pierce made 1 of 2 free throws with 4:28 to play. The 6-point margin proved to be an immovable barrier in the second half; the Celtics four times got that close, but never any closer.

The Celtics missed a big chance at 97-91 (Pierce bricked an open 16-footer) and then Peterson (12 for 22) went to work. The Celtics' game plan called for getting Peterson to put the ball on the floor. He did just that this time, blowing through the defense for a twisting layup with 3:39 left, making it 99-91. Davis then missed on the Celtics' next two possessions and Bosh made two free throws with 2:26 left, making it a 10-point game. A Davis turnover then led to Peterson's final trey, a 25-foot dagger with 1:50 left that made it 104-91.

"We didn't defend the three," Pierce said. "Coach said they would shoot a lot of treys and for some reason, we didn't defend it. We are not that good right now."

He wasn't being prophetic this time. He was being candid. 

Celtics 106
Hawks 94
 Box score   Wrap
 NBA scoreboard
1/19 vs. Bulls
 Celtics schedule  Roster
 Eastern Conf. standings
online extras
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months