Celtics don't scare Raps

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

The big bad Boston Celtics -- at least that's the image of this overhauled team at this point in the season -- arrive in town this afternoon for a date with the Raptors.

The Celtics, just about everyone's pick for the top seed in the East this year, are being talked about all over the league. "The Big Three" -- Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce -- have put the Celtics back on the NBA map.

The Raptors are making noise of their own, but outside of the GTA, few seem to be hearing it.

The mere arrival of Garnett and Allen in Boston brought an immediate swagger to the Celtics that hasn't been there since the Larry Bird days. The Raps? Their swagger, and it's definitely there too, comes from what they've done on the court. And while they might not have the name recognition of an Allen or a Garnett, they have a unit operating at the top of its game right now.

A thorough manhandling of the New Jersey Nets on their home court Friday night only reinforced that Raptors confidence.

Boston may be the talk of the East this season, but don't expect the Raps to bow down to them.

"What makes Boston different than Jersey or different than Philly?" T.J. Ford asked yesterday after practice. "It's still five-on-five. It's still basketball. Yeah, they have big names. Yeah, they're all-stars. Yeah, those guys will probably be Hall of Famers. It's all true, but between those lines those guys are just like us. They're no different. I'm not looking at K.G. like he's a Hall-of-Fame player. I mean, I definitely respect him, but in between the lines, it's us against them."

The Raps feel they can play with anyone in the league.

Friday's 106-69 romp over New Jersey, the same Nets who ended the Raptors' season in the first round of the playoffs last year, was just another confidence boost, particularly for the team's defensive capabilities.

"That was great," Ford said. "That was the best (defensive) performance I can remember. Everyone was there to help one another and that's what we have to have every game."

Head coach Sam Mitchell saw it much the same way.

"We were in the spots that we needed to be in," Mitchell said. "We took things away, we challenged shots. When guys tried to drive the basketball, we were there with help and we recovered to the shooters. We didn't give up many open looks."

Based on the Celtics' first regular-season game, a 103-83 win over Washington, the Raptors can expect to see a lot of The Big Three. Garnett, Pierce and Allen all surpassed 38 minutes on the court in the opener. Garnett managed a 20-20 with 22 points and 20 rebounds in his regular-season debut with the Celtics.

It's unlikely the Raps can match that individual star power, but they certainly like their chances, their 12 versus the Celtics 12.


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