Raptors need 'killer instinct'

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

In three of the past four seasons, the Raptors have beaten that year's NBA champion.

But don't bet on the Boston Celtics giving Toronto a chance to do it again this afternoon.

The Raptors are likely going to be missing Jermaine O'Neal (mild knee strain, day-to-day) and have been giving up big leads the way Bay St. is giving up profits. The Raptors probably blew their best chance to upset the Celtics in Boston two weeks ago when they surrendered a 16-point lead. Chris Bosh did not see the ball in the fourth quarter as Kevin Garnett shut the door and Paul Pierce exploded for 22 points.

That was one of three recent games in which almost 20-point advantages were erroded. The Raptors gave up 15 points to Miami and held on to win earlier this week, but saw an 18-point margin go south in Friday's 129-127 overtime loss to the New Jersey Nets.

Perhaps coach Sam Mitchell should screen a few Dirty Harry movies in the locker room instead of game highlights with X's and O's content.

"We've got to learn that killer instinct," Mitchell said yesterday. "If we get up, we have to keep being aggressive."

That said, Mitchell believes there was nothing wrong with the team's play offensively Friday, when they shot 48% and put up a point total that tied last year's season high. The work to be done still is in such areas as turnovers (14 against the Nets, which turned into 19 Jersey points), even with point guard Jose Calderon healthy again.

"That's basketball," Calderon said of the big swings in recent games. "We will have losses we don't expect and win some games where we don't play well."

But with a 6-6 record, Bosh says the Raptors have to start sealing the deal in the fourth quarter. Had they been able to finish the Celtics off in Boston in front of a very intimidating crowd, the confidence might have carried over. Instead, they are 2-4 in their last six, including that 94-87 defeat.

"We stop shooting the ball in the fourth quarter and fumble a lot, get a little tight," Bosh said. "But you live and learn. The killer instinct is important, especially if you want to be known as an aggressive team. Even I can get better at that. We have to learn to bury teams early."

But Boston won't likely be taking the Raptors lightly after the last scare. The Celtics swagger in here with a record of 12-2 and 5-1 on the road. They arrived in Minneapolis-St. Paul at 3 a.m. Friday for a game that night, struggled early and then rode a 35-10 third quarter to a 95-78 win over the Timberwolves. In the past two games, their starters have been rested in the fourth quarter.

Given the events of the fourth quarter in Boston, Bosh says he will be ready to take on the champs again -- and not be intimidated. "It's what I live for, especially to compete against Kevin," he said.


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