Celtics Rapped by Raptors

March 8, 1999

   TORONTO - With 6:59 remaining in yesterday's game, the Boston broadcast crew filled out its request sheet for postgame interviews. Under the column headlined 'If Raptors Win,' there were three names. Under the column 'If Opponent Wins,' there were none.

It was that kind of day. 

The Celtics got their first look at the Air Canada Centre and their second look at the Raptors, which was a lot like the unappealing first. Toronto manhandled the Celtics in the season-opener in Boston and did the same thing here, taking a 105-92 victory that was not as close as the final score indicated.

The Celtics were never in this one after a short Dee Brown jumper made it 37-26 with 6:58 left in the first half. From that point on, the Celtics never got closer than 11 and trailed by as many as 19 in the third and 24 in the fourth. Toronto got a big game from skywalking rookie Vince Carter (26 points) and overpowered Boston on the boards, 54-32, to send Boston back below .500 on the first game of a five-game road trip.

"That's twice in a row [ against Toronto] that we've been physically dominated inside. That's their strength and that's our weakness," coach Rick Pitino said. "Give credit to them. They have physical players inside who are hurting us."

Old paint Charles Oakley, wearing cornrows instead of dreadlocks, led the domination with 13 rebounds. Doug Christie had nine and Kevin Willis seven. The starting frontcourt for the Celtics - Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, and Tony Battie - had 10 rebounds between them, none on the offensive glass.

The Raptors' constant pounding inside paid off at the line, which had been a source of concern before the game. Coach Butch Carter openly fumed when his team was awarded seven free throws to Orlando's 34 last Friday, saying his players weren't getting the calls. That was not an issue yesterday.

The Raptors were rewarded for their rough-housing, collecting 41 free throws to Boston's 25. That proved to be the scoring difference, for each team was 37 of 82 from the field with the Celtics making four threes to the Raptors' one. Walker, who led Boston with 29 points, was 4 for 11 from the line as the Celtics missed almost half (12) of their 25 freebies.

"I don't want to take anything away from them," said Walker, who was 11 of 16 from the field, "but we feel we can beat them with the game plan we have. But we didn't execute."

Agreed Pitino, "Our game plan was, 'Don't let them dominate us.' But they did."

The game also matched up two of the league's top rookies in Carter and Pierce, who spent much of the afternoon guarding each other. Pierce finished with only 7 points - 5 coming after the Celtics fell behind by 24 in the fourth - and didn't have a steal. (He did block two shots, one of them a Carter turnaround.)

"It was disappointing for me," Pierce said. "You don't like to lose a game when your man does it against you."

There was no key stretch or defining breakout moment. Boston actually had a 3-point lead, 11-8, after a free throw by Ron Mercer (22 points). Toronto then scored 8 straight, 4 by the acrobatic Tracy McGrady, to take the lead for good. From then on, it was all Toronto, all the time, all the way.

"We came out flat," said Kenny Anderson, still perceived here as an ingrate for refusing a deal to Toronto. "Give them credit. They came out and played well. There's not really too much to say."

He's right. The Raptors led by 7 after one, by 12 at the half, and by 17 after three. The Celtics then went the first 4:13 of the fourth without a basket (scoring just 2 points in that span) to fall behind by the aforementioned 24. A late rally might have had some gamblers anxious, but did nothing to alter the already assured outcome.

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