Celtics 122, Raptors 102

Relentless Celtics romp

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 8, 2011

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The shots kept falling, the lead kept growing, and if it were a boxing match the Celtics would have won on all three judges’ cards by that point, but the Raptors came out for the fourth quarter punch-drunk but still swinging.

After being in a 26-point hole, Linas Kleiza drilled a 3-pointer that cut Toronto’s deficit to 14 with 11:27 left, and the Celtics needed a big shot to make sure nothing wild happened in the final quarter.

Rajon Rondo took a pass from Semih Erden and pulled up from 25 feet, drilling a 3-pointer that all but sent the Raptors back to their corner in a daze, swallowing a 122-102 loss that wrapped up the season series.

“That was a dangerous part of the game,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I thought Rondo’s three, crazy as it sounds, may have been the biggest shot of the game. The shot clock was winding down, we were going through our little lull, and he makes a three to bring it back to 17. I thought that was a big push for us.’’

It was the kind of night when the Celtics could have gotten offense from anyone on the floor.

The usual suspects were typically effective. Paul Pierce silently struck for 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Ray Allen needed just eight shots to score 17 points.

But the Celtics had six players in double figures, shot 57.5 percent, racked up 31 assists, and put on an offensive clinic in winning their fourth straight game and notching the 3,000th regular-season victory in franchise history.

Nate Robinson scored 15 points off the bench. Glen Davis (14) and Shaquille O’Neal (12) both went for double figures. But one thing Raptors coach Jay Triano didn’t bank on when game-planning was rookie Luke Harangody blowing up for 17 points and 11 rebounds, his first career double-double.

Harangody scored 8 points in four minutes in the first quarter. His quick flurry helped the Celtics build a 34-22 lead at the end of the quarter, and from there it snowballed.

“He’s been down a lot the last couple games, he feels like he hasn’t been making shots,’’ said Davis. “But everybody’s been pushing him to get in the gym and get extra shots and he’s been awesome today.’’

After Kevin Garnett went down with a strained right calf last week in Detroit, the Celtics were supposed to be in survival mode. Instead, they’ve feasted with a plug-and-go lineup.

For the fifth time in seven games, the Celtics shot better than 50 percent. Coming off a 22-assist game against San Antonio, Rondo had just seven assists, but the offense purrs when he’s on the floor.

“The good thing about us is we’re very unselfish,’’ said O’Neal. “Ray and Paul have been shooting the ball well, and Rondo’s the type that he knows who to get the ball to and when to get it to them, so with him back there, everything is starting to click again.’’

On the opposite side, Toronto’s defense has been a disaster all season.

They’re dead last in field goal defense, and in the bottom third in scoring defense and 3-point field goal defense. Boston was the last stop on a three-game road swing, and the Raptors were running on empty.

The Celtics’ 67 first-half points weren’t even the most the Raptors have allowed this season (Denver ransacked them for 74 first-half points Dec. 10), but Boston’s final shooting percentage was the best against Toronto this season.

After playing the Celtics six times since October (including twice in the preseason) and twice this week, the Raptors left TD Garden feeling overmatched. The Raptors shot 50 percent and still lost, dropping their fourth straight game and seventh of their past eight.

“It’s tough because veterans like that have been through every type of basketball game since they’ve been in the league,’’ said DeMar DeRozan. “They know how to get through adversity and we’ve just got to keep battling with them.’’

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