Peterson has emerged as a vital player

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

It's one of those thankless NBA jobs that can easily be overlooked.

Every night when Mo Peterson reports for work, he knows he's going to have his hands full facing the other team's best scorer.

As the old saying goes, sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.

Last night it was Paul Pierce, and if all you did was look at the Boston scoresheet, you might think Peterson had an off-night.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yeah, Pierce went off for 33 points to lead the Celtics, as he always does.

But the Boston star had to work his tail off for most of them. And, down the stretch in the fourth quarter where the Raptors have struggled lately, Pierce was held to just five points

And, by the way, defensive standout Peterson led the Raptors in scoring with 27 points of his own in a 111-105 win that broke a six-game losing streak.

"Mo battled," Toronto coach Sam Mitchell said. "The fact that he gave us 27 points on the other end is big. The last five games Pierce has been averaging 35 points a game. He has just been on fire. Mo battled and he didn't let it be: Paul Pierce, 33 points, MoPete 10."

In his sixth year since graduating from Michigan State, Peterson quietly has become the team's longest serving member and a go-to-guy both on and off the court. He's not so far removed from being a rookie that he doesn't understand what many of his young teammates are going through.

None of that has much value unless you're leading by example on the court and Peterson has surely been doing that. He played all 48 minutes last night and 49 the day before in New Jersey against .

"He has been aggressive coming off his picks," said Mitchell of Peterson.

"He has been working on his mid-range game. If you noticed, he's trying to pump fake and step inside that three-point line a lot more. People respect his three-point shooting so they've got to run out hard on him. That light is coming on in his head that he doesn't have to shoot a three every time."

The light has come on in many other ways, as well.

"This is my sixth year in this locker room," he said, with pride. "I've been here when we've been successful and I've been here when we were at our lowest. I just try to use my experience.

"The last couple of years I've just tried to become more vocal, more of a leader, helping guys out when I can. I've been through a lot in my career and I have some experience to pass on."

On the court, Peterson's growth is obvious, especially in his level of consistency and his work ethic. He credits some stinging remarks from coach Kevin O'Neill three years ago for that. Early in the 2003-'04 season, O'Neill accused Peterson of failing to come to camp in shape.

"After that, I vowed to myself I'm not going to let anybody say I don't work hard and that I'm not ready to play," he said. "From that my confidence has grown an awful lot."

During the last couple of years, Peterson has been able to look around the room and do the math. In the absence of people like Vince Carter and now Jalen Rose, it was up to him to step up to the plate. In the process, he has become more of an offensive threat and that helps his defence.

"I'm growing a lot as a player, realizing what I need to do to become better.

"I'm out there every night against a top scorer. Now, if I can force him to work on the defensive end, make him work and react and think to stop me, it's a lot harder game for him.

"In the past when Vince was here and Jalen was here, I would check their scorer but Vince or Jalen would score for us. That meant guys like Pierce could kind of rest on defence, guarding me. Now they can't do that."

In the trade-off last night, Pierce netted just six points, 33-27. Peterson and Mitchell will both take that trade any day. More to the point, they got themselves a much-needed victory. They tried very hard to blow a 10-point lead in the last two minutes but managed to get it right this time.

"We got the job done somehow, someway," Peterson said. "We should have won by 15 but it feels good just to get a win."


Videos

Photos