BOSTON -- The Raptors should have taken the Celtics by the throat last night, but lacked a killer instinct.
For the second game in a row against an injury-ravaged opponent, the Raptors last night didn't exactly wow anyone with their ball movement or shot selection -- at least until the end of the third quarter and early into the fourth, when they went on a 24-6 run to bury the Celtics 95-86.
The final score may have looked impressive, but the Celtics had no business giving the visitors a run. They entered the game with five regulars out with injuries including all-star Paul Pierce, who leads Boston in points (26.6 per game) and rebounds (4.3).
It was the same story in Milwaukee on Wednesday night. The Raps won 90-77, but looked uninspired against a Bucks squad that was missing four starters.
Still, Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell winced when it was suggested last night that his squad has been anything but impressive this week, despite winning two in a row.
"Look, we won. I don't know what our best basketball is, but we won the game," he said. "There's no negative things about winning. Can we get better at some things? Yeah, but every team, every night, says that.
"It's tough for us when teams go small, because that creates problems for us," Mitchell said of the Celtics matchup. "When they had three guards on the court, when they have that much quickness on the court, it makes it tough."
The undersized Celtics were able to keep it close and actually led in the third quarter, despite turning the ball over 22 times and shooting 18-for-27 from the free-throw line.
Such luminaries as Leon Powe, who had a career-high 12 rebounds, and rookie guard Rajon Rondo, with 23 points off the bench (also a career high) put together a solid effort against the Raps, who will have to be sharper against the powerhouse Dallas Mavericks tomorrow afternoon at the Air Canada Centre.
Boston trailed by as many as 17 in the third quarter but, to their credit, made the game interesting. Ryan Gomes hit a 19-foot jump shot to make it 85-80 Toronto with just more than two minutes left. But Raptors guard Jose Calderon nailed a three a few seconds later to lift Toronto to an 88-80 lead with 1:47 on the clock.
The win improved the Raps to 17-20 and lifted them back into a first-place tie in the Atlantic Division with the idle New Jersey Nets.
Toronto did get big efforts from forward Bosh, who started slowly but came on strong to record 27 points and eight rebounds; point guard T.J. Ford, who had 19 points and six assists, and rookie Andrea Bargnani, who added 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, but impressed even more with a couple of stellar passes under the basket.
"He's learning," Mitchell said of his rookie. "He is not going to make shots all the time, but I tell him: 'If you only want me to play you when you make shots, should I take you out when you're not?' You've got to do other things. He is learning day-to-day and he did a lot of good things out there."
Bosh said it is a good sign when the Raptors can win two in a row, despite not firing on all cylinders.
"We know if we can win the bad games, it gives us more confidence when we're playing great," he said. "When we start playing good, we can really give teams a lot of trouble."
C+ Offence: The Raps did manage to shoot 45% from the field but were outrebounded by the injury-ridden Celtics squad 44-37.
B Defence: Forced Boston to turn over the ball on 22 occasions and kept the home side to 40% shooting from the field.