Celtics wear down Raptors
Defense clamps down in second half, sparks third straight win
The Celtics’ defensive statistics looked un-Celtic-like last night. The Toronto Raptors shot 55.7 percent from the field and became the third Boston opponent to score in triple figures in regulation this season.
But the Celtics turned down the defensive screws long enough early in the second half to take a 116-103 victory, an encouraging send-off performance before a four-game road trip.
“At halftime, I said, ‘The first team that plays defense wins, guys,’ ’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “And, the third quarter, we were terrific.’’
The Celtics (12-4), winners of three straight, held the Raptors without a field goal for a 7:14 span early in the second half in taking control of what had been a wide-open offensive contest. Toronto (7-10) was 7 for 20 from the floor in the third quarter.
“We just turned the pressure up,’’ Kevin Garnett said. “One of the things we talked about in the locker room. We’ve said we’ve wanted to start each quarter, especially the third quarter, with a lot of energy, and I thought we did that.
“You know, when we [communicate on the floor] we are a very hard team to beat. The effort has to be with five guys, can’t be with three, can’t be with two.’’
The third quarter provided a strong contrast to the start of the contest.
The Celtics were 15 for 18 from the field in the opening quarter, including a streak of 12 consecutive field goals. But they committed seven turnovers, and trailed, 25-24, after a Hedo Turkoglu 3-pointer with 1:46 remaining.
Ray Allen missed a lefthand drive with the first shot, then the Celtics converted their next 12 tries, taking a 24-22 lead on Garnett’s jumper with 2:56 remaining. Allen (20 points) hit the side of the backboard to break the streak, which consisted of 10 shots in the lane, plus jumpers by Allen and Garnett.
“We were just having a feel-good game at that point,’’ said Rivers, whose team shot 62.3 percent from the floor for the game. “You know, you score, pat them on the back, and they score. I mean, at one point, that’s what it looked like. We call it ‘buddy ball.’ But we stopped doing it.’’
The Celtics began the second quarter with a 33-27 lead, then stretched the advantage to 7 points before Rasheed Wallace was hit with a technical foul and the Raptors rallied within 39-37 on a Turkoglu jumper with 9:15 left before intermission.
Turkoglu’s 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining gave Toronto a 55-54 halftime lead. Then, Turkoglu’s steal and dunk made it 61-57 1:22 into the second half.
The Celtics then made their defensive stand, as they went on a 15-1 run over a 5:32 span. Marquis Daniels’s layup off a Rajon Rondo assist capped a 25-4 run and gave the hosts an 82-65 advantage with 1:25 left in the quarter.
“After the game, [recently hired assistant coach] Ty Lue, who hasn’t been around a lot, said, ‘That’s the Celtics’ defense. That’s what I heard about.’ And that was terrific,’’ said Rivers. “I thought the starters in the third quarter set the tone.’’
Rondo started the rally, dunking off a steal 2:51 into the half. And Wallace concluded the quarter with a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds remaining for an 87-72 advantage.
Paul Pierce started the fourth quarter by racing past Rasho Nesterovic and dunking over Chris Bosh. But both Pierce and Rivers were issued technicals following the play.
Toronto cut the deficit to 96-87 as Nesterovic followed his own miss with 7:53 left. But the Celtics regained the momentum and were able to sub the starters and most of the second unit with 2:08 to go.
“Usually, you come in the half and you shoot 67 percent, the way we did, the way we passed the ball, we should be up about 10-15 points,’’ said Pierce. “So, we’re still a work in progress. You know, we’re trying to put four quarters together, instead of stretches. The way we move the ball, we shoot at this rate, we should be able to beat anybody, it should be a blowout. So we still got some ways to improve. We’ve still got a ways to go.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.