DeRozan was a perfect 13-for-13 from the line as the Raptors ended a four-game losing skid despite being without two of their top players. Big man Andrea Bargnani was shut down for the rest of 2011-12 with an aggravation of a lingering left calf injury that had forced him to miss nearly half the season, while point guard Jose Calderon was still feeling the effects of a right eye bruise and was kept out as a precaution.
Paul Pierce’s 18 points paced the Celtics (34-25), who nearly wiped out a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit but ultimately fell shot in the opener of a dizzying stretch that will see them play six games in six different cities over an eight-day span. Boston remained three games ahead of Philadelphia atop the Atlantic Division after the 76ers dropped a 95-89 decision to the New Jersey Nets.
The Celtics used relentless full-court pressure and timely shot-making to erase Toronto’s double-digit edge, pulling to within one on a three-point play by Pierce with 38.8 seconds remaining. DeRozan drew a foul on Toronto’s next possession and made both free throws to put Toronto ahead 78-75, but Pierce answered with a one-handed slam to trim the deficit with 20.5 seconds left.
Two more free throws by DeRozan extended the lead, and Pierce missed badly on a game-tying 3-point attempt. Linas Kleiza knocked down four free throws in the waning moments to put the game away, giving Toronto a split of the four-game season series.
Kleiza added 17 points in a reserve role for Toronto, which finished with a 50-37 rebounding edge.
Down 36-30 despite shooting 9-for-39 in the opening half, the Raptors pushed the tempo early in the third quarter and eventually pulled ahead on a long DeRozan jumper with 7:49 remaining. Alan Anderson followed with a three-pointer from the right corner and Amir Johnson added a short hook shot with 5:17 left to cap Toronto’s 17-4 quarter-opening run.
DeRozan knocked down a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock. Pierce responded with his own, but Kleiza’s 3 on Toronto’s next possession helped propel the Raptors to a 57-47 edge entering the fourth.
Anderson’s 3-pointer in the opening two minutes of the quarter extended the advantage to 15, and he hit another three from the right corner while being fouled to bring the Air Canada Crowd of 17,270 to its feet. He completed the four-point play to put Toronto up 72-57, cueing the Celtics’ comeback.
Kevin Garnett had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Celtics, while Rajon Rondo dished out 12 assists, giving him 20 straight games with double-digit assists.
NOTES: The Celtics were without G Ray Allen, who is hobbled by a sore right ankle and did not travel to Toronto. He is considered day-to-day. … Kleiza returned to the lineup after missing nearly the entire second half of Wednesday’s loss to Philadelphia with a sore knee. … Toronto finished with just nine first-half field goals, narrowly avoiding the franchise low of seven set Jan. 11, 2010 in Indiana. … Boston plays just twice over the final six days of the regular season, wrapping things up with home dates against Miami and Milwaukee.