Raptors schooled

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

BOSTON -- When playing the NBA champion Boston Celtics, best to keep in mind they don't need a full 48 minutes to beat you.

All it takes is a spark, like the Raptors lit for them with a flat finish in an otherwise impressive first half. Then, stars such as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the cage-crazy fans here will turn it into a big bonfire.

Toronto's 16-point lead and its hopes of dealing the Celtics a shocker at home ended in a 94-87 loss. As fast as the Raptors dried up, such as Jermaine O'Neal's season-high 19 points in the first half limited to four afterward, Pierce came alive with 22 in the final quarter. With Garnett jawing and gesturing at Raptors point guard Jose Calderon and whipping the TD Banknorth Garden into a frenzy, Boston showed why its 7-1 so far in search of a repeat.

"The world champions, on their court, with three future hall of famers (Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen) ... you let them hang around and they'll beat you," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said.

What irked him was the three or four possessions when the Raptors could have built their halftime lead close to 20 points, part of a trend of passing up great opportunities to score.

"I can live with guys trying to make plays, but we just turned down too many shots," Mitchell said. "The worst thing that can happen is that you miss.

"I keep telling our guys to read the scouting report. (Boston) knew we've got guys shooting threes (8-for-19 in that department). They are going to run at you hard, so you've gotta pump fake, step inside and shoot the 17-footer or take the ball to the basket."

Garnett put a lock on Chris Bosh, holding the Toronto captain to a season-low nine points. But after O'Neal's big opening act, the Celtics clamped down on him with Glen (Big Baby) Davis.

"When he came in and slowed J.O., down a bit, it definitely gave us some momentum," Garnett said. "And I love when Superman (Pierce) goes in the booth and transforms. I got the best seat in the house."

Garnett used his star status to get away with some theatrics such as a finger wag at Calderon, while using a timeout to incite the 18,624 fans. There would be no repeat of last year's 114-112 Raptor win here last year.

"You've got to tip your hats to those guys when they play like that," O'Neal said. "We had our opportunities to win tonight, same as we did against Detroit (another Eastern contender). It's definitely a learning experience for us."

Garnett was getting little help from Pierce until the latter exploded in the fourth en route to a game-high 36 points.

O'Neal bounced back from an 0-for-5 game in Charlotte to snatch eight first-half rebounds and 11 overall. But he gave back by flubbing two straight free throws early in the third quarter, missed a shot with 1:40 to go that would've restored the lead and mishandled a pass with the Celtics still in reach.

Jamario Moon started with another strong two-way game, but as far as the bench was concerned, the most entertaining plays were provided by the unlikely combination of Jason Kapono to Kris Humphries for four of his seven points, nifty passes that the Celtics must have been jealous of just watching.

Toronto was trying to match its best seven-game start from 1999-00 when it was 5-2 en route to a 7-3 launch. Now it's 4-3 heading home to play the Philadelphia 76ers tomorrow.

The Celtics were wrapping up five games in seven nights, so coach Doc Rivers couldn't complain too much about one loss.

"This is the toughest schedule I've ever seen," Rivers said before the game, looking ahead to three more matches this week, a second back-to-back set and no three-day break until December. "I looked at it before the season and thought it was brutal. There's no practice time. But it's here, we're going through it and so far, so good."


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