Raggedy Raptors stun Celtics

Boston Celtics' forward Kevin Garnett, right, looks to pass against Toronto Raptors' defenders...

Boston Celtics' forward Kevin Garnett, right, looks to pass against Toronto Raptors' defenders James Johnson, front left, and Ed Davis during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto April 13, 2012. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:03 AM ET

TORONTO - The under-talented, overachieving Raptors put an exclamation mark on their season on Friday, stunning the 34-25 Boston Celtics 84-79 on the same day Andrea Bargnani was lost for the campaign.

DeMar DeRozan connected on all 13 of his free throw attempts, Ben Uzoh notched eight points eight rebounds and five assists and Linas Kleiza scored 17 off of the bench for Toronto.

The Raptors were also missing Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless, forcing Uzoh into 32 minutes of action.

Head coach Dwane Casey said he didn’t sleep Thursday night because he was worried about the pressure the Celtics’ relentless defenders would put on Uzoh and acting backup Justin Dentmon.

But the Raptors, massive underdogs coming in, dug deep to prove they play in the same league as the Celtics for a reason.

“I think our guys took it as a challenge,” Casey said,

Somehow despite hitting less than a quarter of their first half attempts, the Raptors were in the game and used a 17-4 third quarter run to take control.

But the wily Celtics rallied down the stretch thanks to, what else? Raptor mistakes. That’s been the script all season for a club that came in 6-18 in games where the difference was plus or minus five points with under one minute to play.

Boston had 47 points entering the fourth and only really turned up the heat late, twice closing to within one in the final minute.

With the crowd standing for much of that time, the Raptors gave them a rare treat, a win over a division leader.

It was the seventh victory in team history when shooting under 35% and the fewest number of made field goals in a win.

“It reinforces what we’ve been talking about, toughness … it reinforces a lot.

“We’re playing for pride, we’re playing for culture,” Casey said.

Before the game, the team announced that Bargnani was done for the year.

Bargnani missed 26 games due to a left calf strain earlier in the year and left Sunday’s game in Oklahoma City with calf tightness. Nobody expected him to return to action this season for the 20-40 club.

He averaged 19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 33.3 minutes in 31 games – including 13 tremendous outings to start the season.

The team is holding him out to eliminate any further risk.

“The injury is still there and the risk vs. reward of him continuing to play and injuring it again, possibly tearing it, I’d rather and the organization would rather it hea completely,” said head coach Dwane Casey.

Bargnani played the best basketball of his career in his first 13 games, competing with a new-found vigour on defence while averaging 23.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

Casey said he will expect him to play the same way next season and also to stay in the lineup more often.

“Next year is a different animal. The things that we’ve probably missed games for now, can’t happen during the season next year.

“I know now that he can do it, so that’s going to be the command coming in next year. “Give us the same performance, the same focus on the defensive end. We know what he can do offensively. The more we add offensive players and develop it’s only going to enhance his game because now they can’t just key on him,” Casey said.

The coach said he was as shocked as anybody to see the Bargnani who came out of the gate dominating at both ends.

“He was a great surprise to me at the beginning of the year … His quickness and speed at the defensive end to move his feet, take charges, impact the game with his pick and roll coverages and just using his length at the defensive end. I had never seen it,” Casey explained.

The huge question the Raptors — especially general manager Bryan Colangelo — will have to figure out will be, do they believe Bargnani can approach that impact in a full season going forward.

Nobody knows the answer, but at least those 13 games rewarded Colangelo’s faith in the big man while also raising his trade value should lottery luck force the club into a big move.

NOT DEAD YET

Back in January, with the Celtics struggling along at 4-8, Casey insisted giving up on them would be a huge mistake.

“I said the whole time, they’re a veteran team they have a championship pedigree and you can’t take that away from them. I said it was too early to count these guys out. Right now they’re playing like a championship team,” Casey said.

Just not on this night.

rwolstat@sunmedia.ca


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