A Jumbotron interview in the fourth quarter revealed John Smoltz's intentions to be a Red Sox starter next season. But the Celtics' 115-109 overtime win over Toronto at TD Banknorth Garden last night was a game for them to display their own version of closers - Kevin Garnett's defending and rebounding, plus the accuracy of Paul Pierce (39 points) - as they set a team record for overtime offense in outscoring the Raptors, 22-16.
The Celtics had hoped to limit the playing time of Pierce, who sprained his knee in a 94-88 win at Toronto Sunday and was considered "50-50" last night by coach Doc Rivers. But Pierce went 49 minutes, and was the only Celtic to score during a 5:31 span late in the fourth quarter and early in overtime.
Pierce attended the postgame news conference with both knees heavily wrapped but said he could have gone a few more innings.
"Actually, I feel pretty good," said Pierce, who scored 26 points after halftime, including 9 in overtime. "I could have played another quarter, I think."
The Celtics (31-9) appear to have recovered from a four-game losing streak, but they missed Tony Allen (ankle) and Kendrick Perkins (shoulder), who also will be absent for tomorrow's game against the Nets and a visit to New Jersey Saturday. Brian Scalabrine replaced Perkins at center, limiting the perimeter threat of Andrea Bargnani (23 points) in the first half.
But the Raptors adjusted tactically, limiting Ray Allen's offense after he scored 36 points against them in Toronto Sunday. But after Toronto led by as many as 12 points late in the first half and maintained a 10-point advantage late in the third quarter, the Celtics adjusted and gained momentum.
In fact, the Celtics appeared on the way to a regulation-time victory after dramatic shots by Garnett (with 3:14 remaining) and Allen (2:16) at the shot-clock buzzer, plus Rajon Rondo (1:56) with :03 on the shot clock, provided a 90-84 lead. Pierce had a chance to clinch the result, but he missed the first of two foul shots with 14.3 seconds to go, and Bargnani tied the score, 93-all, on a 3-pointer with a second left.
Pierce scored 70 seconds into overtime, a second-chance 3-pointer, and the Celtics increased the edge to 111-104 on a Garnett free throw with 27 seconds remaining.
"I thought in the first half, we got every shot we wanted and none went in," Rivers said. "But we still had no rhythm because they were scoring every single time down the floor and we were not going to win if that continued. Even if our shots were going in, we were not going to win the game."
Rivers, who has developed a friendship with Smoltz, also got into the baseball lingo mode, comparing the wins over the Raptors to a doubleheader sweep.
"It was tougher than maybe it should have been, but to win back-to-back games in the league during the regular season - historically, it's a split," Rivers said. "It's like playing a doubleheader. And we won them both, so I'll take them."
The Celtics were in their defensive multiple-stop mode in the final quarter but struggled to convert in transition.
Gabe Pruitt's 3-pointer provided an 80-78 lead with 10:55 remaining in regulation, the Celtics' first advantage since late in the opening quarter. A Glen Davis putback extended the edge to 82-79 1:36 into the quarter. But Eddie House missed three consecutive 3-pointers and the Raptors went ahead on a Chris Bosh 3-point play and Kris Humphries drive.
"That was a good stretch for our bench," Rivers said. "I thought our bench gave us the energy to win the game."
Garnett switched into big-play mode in the late going.
The Raptors broke a 6:17 scoring drought on Joey Graham's foul shot, then pulled within 90-88 on Will Solomon's 3-pointer with 86 seconds remaining.
Garnett won a jump ball from Graham, leading to Pierce's pullup with :03 on the shot clock to stretch the lead to 4 points with 24.5 seconds to play.
In overtime, Garnett's steal lead to a Rondo drive for a 100-95 lead with 2:45 to play and he sank four free throws in an eight-second span, providing what would be the clinching points with 27 seconds remaining.