BOSTON ó Even at their absolute best, the chances of the Raptors knocking off the Celtics for the second time in a week werenít good.
But the Raptorsí slow start, sequences of poor defence and lapses in decision making became rather secondary Friday night.
The primary concern would turn out to be the health of Reggie Evans, a leader who has left everything out on the floor knowing full well he could be traded at the drop of a hat.
It was during last yearís pre-season in an exhibition game against the Celtics in Hartford, Conn., when he hurt his left mid-foot, a setback that basically cost Evans half of his first season in Toronto, but in reality his entire season.
On Friday night with 5:25 remaining in the third quarter, Evans broke his right foot.
At first glance, it was hard to tell just how the injury happened.
It came just as a timeout was being called and no one could spot Evans lying prone on the court as a sea of humanity converged on the floor for one those lame excuses that classify as in-game entertainment.
When he slowly got to his feet, Evans had a difficult time bearing any weight on his right leg.
For the record, the Celtics beat the Raptors 110-101.
Without Evans, the obvious impact will be rebounding and defence, but his leadership cannot be overstated.
Remember, Evans was the one who called a team meeting in the wake of a lethargic loss to Washington.
Coincidence or not, the Raptors went out and won their next four heading into Fridayís tip.
What is also obvious about Evans is how defenders play off him on offence because of Evansí lack of offence.
To his credit, heís done a much better in resisting the urge to attack the rim when hauling down an offensive rebound.
Without Evans, the Raptorsí frontline, which is already thin at the best of times, became even thinner.
The Celtics would lead by as many as 22 points, but then the Raptors started to junk up the game, basketball parlance for playing zone, by going small, by reverting to whatever means to get back into it.
For the first time this season and for the first time in recent memory, the Raptors didnít have an American-born player on the floor.
The only non-Euro was Brazilian-born Leandro Barbosa, but with so many shooters the Raptors gave the Celtics a bit of a scare.
Peja Stojakovic got a chance and buried a three-ball that seemed so effortless ó this from a guy who spent the entire night on the bench.
As far as beginnings went, this was not the way to usher in the night, a start best described as fright night.
The opening periodís tenor was established on Torontoís opening possession when Evans tried to make a back-door pass to a cutting DeMar DeRozan, a sequence that led to a turnover, one of four in the opening 12 minutes.
When they werenít careless with the ball, the Raptors couldnít defend and they simply had no answer for Rajon Rondo, Bostonís dynamic point guard who missed the last three games nursing a strained left hamstring.
It was of little concern to the Raptors last Sunday when Boston played minus its floor general, but to under-estimate Rondoís impact would be foolish.
About the only weakness to Rondoís game is his ability to make shots, but his feel for the game and knack for getting his teammates the ball in the right spot more than compensate for a suspect jumper.
With Rondo showing no signs of any rust, the Celtics went on an onslaught that saw the home side score 14 minutes with the game barely three minutes old.
When Kevin Garnett wasnít beating Andrea Bargnani off the dribble from the wing, there was Shaquille OíNeal dunking the ball and Ray Allen nailing three-balls.
It was not pretty and the Raptors were forced to play catch-up almost from the opening tap.
Despite their lack of size in the frontcourt, moments when they look completely lost on defence, these Raptors donít quit.
All things being equal, the Raptors are nowhere near good enough to beat Boston when the Cs are bringing their A game.
But when Boston began to slip, especially at the defensive end, the Raptors started to make the night a lot more competitive, at times even compelling.