Raptors Hold Off Celtics 84-79

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.

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Celtics Top Timberwolves as Garnett Outplays Kevin Love

The 35-year-old Garnett has heard some suggest that the 23-year-old Kevin Love has already usurped him as the best Timberwolves player ever. But on Friday night Garnett had 24 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists in a return to Target Center, and the outmuscled Love and the Timberwolves, 100-79.

“If you all know anything about me, you know that I was more than ready and prepared tonight,” Garnett said.

Love had 22 points and 11 rebounds but succumbed to Garnett’s physical defense.

Paul Pierce added 21 points and Rajon Rondo had 17 assists for the Celtics, who have won four in a row and are alone in first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time all season.

HEAT 113, RAPTORS 101 Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh scored 30 points each and visiting Miami beat Toronto for its seventh straight win over the Raptors.

LeBron James had 26 points and 9 assists, and Mario Chalmers added 14 points for the Heat.

DeMar DeRozan scored 28 points and Andrea Bargnani had 27 for Toronto, which lost for the sixth time in eight games.

WIZARDS 97, 76ERS 76 Host Washington built a big lead and held on to it for a change, ending a five-game losing streak. Cartier Martin tied a career high with 20 points in his second game under a 10-day contract.

The 76ers have lost six of nine and are struggling to score. The loss knocked them out of a first-place tie with the Celtics in the Atlantic Division.

Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young led Philadelphia with 14 points apiece.

BUCKS 121, CAVALIERS 84 Brandon Jennings scored 28 points as visiting Milwaukee routed Cleveland and closed to a game and a half behind the Knicks for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The rookie Kyrie Irving scored 29 points to lead Cleveland before leaving in the fourth quarter with a sprained right shoulder.

MAVERICKS 100, MAGIC 98 Dirk Nowitzki banked in a jumper with 5.9 seconds left and scored a game-high 28 points to lead Dallas to its sixth straight victory over the Magic in Orlando.

Jameer Nelson scored 24 points to lead the Magic. Ryan Anderson added 21 and Dwight Howard finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds.

BULLS 83, PISTONS 71 Luol Deng scored 20 points, and Joakim Noah added 19 points and 12 rebounds for host Chicago as the Bulls improved their league-best record to 42-11 even though the star guard Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton remained sidelined by injuries.

NUGGETS 99, BOBCATS 88 Arron Afflalo scored 12 of his team-high 19 points in the second half and added 11 rebounds as visiting Denver held off Charlotte.

Gerald Henderson had 21 points to lead the Bobcats, who have lost six straight games and remain the only team in the league with fewer than 10 victories.

ROCKETS 98, GRIZZLIES 89 Goran Dragic scored a season-high 25 points and Courtney Lee added 17 as the Rockets beat Memphis, which has not won in Houston since April 2006.

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Celtics Beat Raptors 96-73 to Snap 5-Game Skid

Rondo still led the Celtics with 21 points before leaving the game late in the third quarter of a 96-73 win over the Toronto Raptors, giving Boston its first win in two weeks.

“I got some wide open looks at the rim. I made some easy ones, I made some tough ones. I was just trying to stay aggressive,” said Rondo, who spent several frightening minutes on the floor after being leveled on a flagrant foul by Linas Kleiza with 2:12 left in the third quarter.

Gingerly holding his right wrist, Rondo got up, made one of two foul shots, then slowly walked to the locker room. X-rays showed no break and Rondo said he wanted to return, but the Celtics didn’t risk it.

They didn’t need to.

The Celtics blew open the game in the third quarter and led by at least 20 for much of the final period, ending their slide while extending the Raptors’ losing streak to six.

Kevin Garnett added 15 points and Paul Pierce had seven assists, five more than Rondo as the two made a surprise role reversal.

“His assists are going to happen because he’s a great passer,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said of Rondo. “Tonight was just one of those nights. He was basically just scoring and wasn’t getting assists. But it was good for the team.”

Reserves Mickael Pietrus and Brandon Bass also made big contributions for the Celtics. Pietrus made four 3-pointers and finished with 12 points and Bass had 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds.

It was Boston’s first win since beating New Jersey 89-70 on Jan. 4.

“This is our second-longest winning streak this year,” Rondo said with a slight smile. “It’s a positive vibe right now in our locker room.”

Rondo said his wrist was still sore and described himself as day to day. The Celtics are at home again Friday night against Phoenix.

Toronto was without center Andrea Bargnani for the fourth straight game because of a calf strain and continued its slide, falling to 4-11 this season.

Gary Forbes scored 18 points and DeMar DeRozan had 11 for the Raptors, who couldn’t overcome a slow start in the third period after keeping the Celtics close in the first half.

“We were both desperate, but they were the more desperate team,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “We knew they’d come out throwing haymakers. I thought we handled it in the first half, but didn’t in the third quarter.”

Boston pulled away during the third, then got a scare when Rondo was driving for a layup with 2:12 left in the period and was hit hard by Kleiza, who came down hard with his left arm and knocked Rondo to the floor. Rondo landed awkwardly on his back with his right hand and wrist getting crunched in between his body and the court.

Kleiza was initially called for a flagrant 2 foul, but officials reduced it to a flagrant 1 after reviewing the play.

The game was pretty much decided before then.

After cutting a 15-point deficit to 44-38 at halftime, the Raptors struggled with their shots in the third, going without a field goal until Ed Davis’ dunk 5:16 into the quarter.

The Raptors had just three free throws up to that point as Boston opened up a 53-41 lead despite some sloppy play of its own. The Celtics sharpened up midway through the period with a 13-2 run, getting six points from Bass and 3-pointers by Pietrus and Ray Allen while opening up a 68-46 lead.

The Raptors didn’t seem to have much left after that, even with the Celtics going nearly 5 minutes into the fourth quarter without a field goal.

“Right now we’re in a little bit of a slump the last six games,” Forbes said. “It’s something that’s correctable. We’re in every game pretty much in the third quarter. We’ve just got to get better.”

NOTES: Rondo scored nine during a 13-0 run for Celtics, who held the Raptors without a field goal for 6:24 while pulling ahead 21-7 in the first quarter. After a miss by Kleiza, Rondo got the loose ball and took off for the basket, rolling in a layup with 0.9 seconds left and finished with 13 points in the period. … The Celtics’ 29 points were the most they’ve scored in the first quarter this season, topping their 28-point opener against Washington on Jan. 1. … The Raptors outscored the Celtics 24-15 in the second quarter. … Allen’s 3-pointer 1:52 into the third was his first field goal of the game. He finished with just six points for the Celtics.

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