TORONTO — It might be too soon to write off the Boston Celtics.
After overcoming a 10-point disadvantage after three quarters on Monday, they came back to defeat the Toronto Raptors 99-95 on Wednesday before a crowd of 17,163 at Air Canada Centre.
They have won five in a row since star point guard Rajon Rondo had his season ended by a knee injury.
Kevin Garnett, who has been the subject of trade rumors, led the way in the comeback, scoring 11 his 27 points and grabbing four rebounds in the fourth quarter.
“We’re fighters,” Garnett said. “We’re a team that’s going to compete for 48 minutes even though it’s not always pretty. We’re not perfect, we’re human beings. We play hard, we do our best to go out and try to perfect the game plan and we play unselfish and we play for each other. That’s all you can ask. You want your team committed to each other and to both ends, and I think we’re doing that.”
He did not address trade rumors after the game but said Tuesday that he bleeds Celtic green.
“They’re champions, and there’s a reason,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They know how to finish games, and we’re going to learn to play that way because that’s how you play playoff basketball — grabbing, holding, hitting first, the ability to draw fouls and knowing how to do it. All those things are what makes a championship team.”
Courtney Lee added 15 points for the Celtics (25-23), and former Raptor Leandro Barbosa came off the Boston bench to score 12 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter. Paul Pierce had 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, Avery Bradley had 11 points and Brandon Bass scored 10.
“I didn’t like the way we played most of the game tonight,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We just kind of hung in there.”
Rudy Gay led Toronto (17-32) with 25 points and 12 rebounds, while Amir Johnson had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Kyle Lowry had 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. DeMar DeRozan scored 13, as did Andrea Bargnani, who played 24 minutes in his first game since injuring his right elbow on Dec. 10.
“It was great,” Bargnani said. “I was out eight weeks and wasn’t able to shoot a ball for some weeks. I definitely have to get the rhythm back and get back in shape.”
It was not a triumphant return for Bargnani because the Celtics did what they needed to do to win.
“We went out there and battled,” Bradley said. “We played well as a team, (Barbosa) was great but not only him. I keep telling people Jason Terry has got defense, man; people don’t believe me. They saw evidence tonight. Jeff (Green) played great. It just shows no matter who Doc puts on the floor everybody’s always prepared and ready to give their all. We just go out there and compete.”
Garnett’s 12-foot turnaround fadeaway jumper with 46.9 seconds left gave the Celtics a 96-91 lead, but Gay made a layup to bring Toronto to within three with 42.3 seconds left.
Green made one of two free throws with 17.6 seconds remaining to increase Boston’s lead to 97-93. Gay missed a layup, and the Celtics grabbed the rebound. After the Raptors fouled, Lee made both free throws to put the game away.
“This is a good win for us, because we didn’t have it” Rivers said. “And we kept looking for the right lineup, the right group. The last group, we were really small and it did wonders, just the ball movement offensively.”
Toronto’s 10-point lead after three quarters vanished when the Celtics scored the first 10 points of the fourth. After the Raptors regained the lead at 85-81, the Celtics again came back and led by three with 4:26 to play after Pierce hit two free throws on Johnson’s fourth foul. Garnett’s layup increased the lead to five. Johnson reduced the lead to three with 3:12 left, but Garnett’s jumper put Boston up by five again. Johnson’s turnaround hook cut the lead to three, but Barbosa restored the Celtics’ advantage to five.
NOTES: Raptors forward Linas Kleiza (right knee) is still out, and forward Landry Fields (acute back spasms) missed his second successive game. … Second-year Boston guard Bradley has played well since Rondo’s injury. “He’s doing great,” Rivers said before the game. “He’s not doing much different. We just asked him to be the defensive player he is.” … The Raptors visit the Indiana Pacers on Friday. … The Celtics are home to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. … The Celtics are 5-6 in the second game of back-to-back games so far this season.