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NFL CANADA





Celtics storm back for win against Raptors
By RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency


Raptors' Kyle Lowry goes to the hoop against the Celtics' Leandro Barbosa last night at the ACC. (Dave Thomas/Toronto Sun)

TORONTO - The no-quit Boston Celtics continue rolling without Rajon Rondo.

And Boston’s latest win might just have extinguished whatever faint playoff hopes the Raptors till harboured.

Eight-place Boston moved 81/2 games ahead of the Raptors, rallying form a 10-point deficit after three for a 99-95 victory.

Kevin Garnett led Boston with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Rudy Gay’s 25 points and 12 rebounds weren’t enough.

The Raptors took a lot of plays off in the first half, particularly on defence, but came out with a lot more fire in the third quarter and seemed to have this one.

Kyle Lowry and Gay, in particular, keyed Toronto’s uber-aggressive charge. Gay scored 13 points in the quarter and ignited the Toronto break several times, as did Lowry who scored 10 points and added three assists in the frame.

But Boston hung around and ex-Raptor Leandro Barbosa went off in the fourth quarter, along with Garnett, the future hall of famer, as Boston won its fifth straight since Rondo’s ACL tear.

Not even a solid return to action by Andrea Bargnani could lift the Raptors.

The ACC crowd greeted Bargnani, back after missing 26 games due to injury, with a mix of cheers and boos.

He quickly turned the jeers to cheers though, making his first three shots and leading the team with 11 points in the opening half.

Bargnani’s hot start wasn’t a surprise to Casey, who said the big man was coming off of some of the best practices he had seen him turn in since Casey became head coach.

“There’s a lot of rust on him (but) he’s had some of his most focussed practices, rebounding, at the defensive end, if that continues, that’s a good thing for us. We’re going to push him, just like everyone else, but we need him to step up,” Casey said.

“He is smart, he is very knowledgeable of what’s going on. Just getting that extra step out of him is the key.”

Though Bargnani fancies himself a starter, in Toronto, his most effective role is as a lethal scorer off of the bench. With the trade deadline looming though, it is not yet clear whether he will get a chance to settle into that role, or if he will be toiling elsewhere.

Bargnani was not able to do much in the second half on offence (just two more points), but was rock-solid defensively, using his length to cause Boston problems.

But DeMar DeRozan turned in one of his worst all-around performances of the year and the Raptors made many mistakes down the stretch.

BENCH BARGS

Bargnani came off of the bench for the first time since Dec. 29, 2008, snapping a string of 245 straight starts.

It’s not as if doing so is completely foreign to Bargnani though, he was a reserve for all but two games as a rookie, and was a reserve for 44-of-156 appearances the next two seasons.

Casey said the former first overall pick was fine with coming off of the bench.

“He understood I told him when Ed (Davis) was here that Ed had earned that spot unless something happened to Ed, which it did, but now Amir (Johnson) is playing well, Amir and Aaron’s (Gray) combination has got a good rhythm. He understood that and accepted it,” Casey said.

UNPREDICTABLE

Casey believes part of the reason for Boston’s success without Rondo is because the team has been getting offence from everywhere.

“The ball is zinging, you can’t predict where the ball is coming from now.

That unpredictability is huge. It’s more of a concentrated five-man effort,” Casey said.

Casey would like to see Bargnani help Toronto do similar things offensively, spreading the scoring around, making the team tougher to guard.

“We try not to have a focal point. So teams can’t lock in on where the ball is going,” Casey said. Though Gay will be Toronto’s top option, having capable scorers around him, will keep opponents off balance.

Big V HONOURED AGAIN

Though Valanciunas has yet to make a huge impact in the NBA, the rookie’s international achievements earned him FIBA’s Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year honours for the second consecutive year.

Valanciunas played well for Lietuvos Rytas last season, competed in the Olympics and made his debut with the Raptors over the past year.

“Despite Jonas already having collected a number of awards, I have a feeling that greater things are yet to come for him,” said FIBA Europe Secretary General Kamil Novak.

With the playoffs so remote an outcome, but with Toronto not wanting to surrender a high draft pick to Oklahoma City (via the Lowry deal with Houston), it will be interesting to see which direction the team goes.

The wise move would be developing Valanciunas and fellow rookie Terrence Ross, but wins are always tantalizing and coaches seldom trust greenhorns in their first season.

 






Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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