BOSTON, Feb. 28 (Ticker) --
The Boston Celtics were missing Paul
for the first time in more than three years. Fellow
All-Star Antoine Walker
had no problem picking up the slack.
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Walker collected 22 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists and hit
a key basket down the stretch as the Celtics edged the Toronto
Raptors, 90-85 in the front end of a home-and-home series.
Rookie J.R. Bremer
added 20 points and Eric Williams
18 for the
Celtics, who remained one-half game behind Philadelphia for
fourth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The
Celtics had lost three of their previous five contests.
"Without Paul being there, we didn't know what we were going to
do in the full-court as far as scoring, but everybody stepped
up," Williams said.
Pierce, the NBA's fifth-leading scorer, sat out the contest
after slipping on a patch of ice at his home and straining his
lower back. He had played in 257 straight games - the
third-longest actice streak in the league - since missing a game
at Orlando on January 26, 2000.
"We needed everybody to step up tonight," said Bremer, who made
7-of-10 shots, including 5-of-7 from the arc. "And everybody
did a great job stepping up. Luckily my shot came back
"It was just one of those nights," Raptors forward Jerome
said. "They were trying to pound the ball down low in
terms of getting Eric Williams the ball, (and) he did a great
job for them. But Bremer was really able to step it up. He was
able to make the open three and put pressure on the outside. So
whenever you get into that continuity, with your offense going
inside and out, it's going to be a tough night to play defense."
The Celtics scored the last seven points of the third quarter
and the first four of the fourth to take a 71-60 lead. They led
by 12 points midway through the second half before Toronto
closed to 87-85 on a 3-pointer by Alvin Williams
with 38 seconds
But Walker countered with a step-back jumper with 18 seconds to
play, and after Voshon Lenard
missed a jumper, Tony Delk
the scoring by hitting 1-of-2 free throws with 14 seconds left.
"Yeah, it was a big shot, but it was about team tonight," Walker
said. "We wanted to get some movement on the offensive end, we
wanted everybody to be aggressive. It is tough to make up 35
percent of our offense, which comes from Paul."
Boston shot 45 percent (34-of-76) from the field and limited
Toronto to 37 percent (30-of-82). The Raptors are just 2-20
when shooting below 40 percent.
"I didn't think our intensity defensively was up to a high
level, then it finally got there," Raptors coach Lenny Wilkens
said. "But you've got to have that defensive intensity all game
long, otherwise it takes all the energy out of you. Then that
energy is going to be spent somewhere else. It came down to the
end when we had some good looks, and couldn't convert."
"We played great half-court defense," Eric Williams said. "We
got our hands on the ball and that's what our team does. Paul
was out and we knew we had to pick it up on the defensive end."
scored 18 points but had just five after halftime
for Toronto, which has lost four of six since a four-game
winning streak. Antonio Davis
added 13 points and 14 rebounds
and Jerome Williams
12 and 10 for the Raptors, who host the
Celtics at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday.
Carter left the game with 1:27 remaining after Walker collided
with the back of his neck as they dived on the floor for a loose
ball. He did not return.
"If (Vince) hadn't gotten hurt there, we had some momentum, and
we score, then all of a sudden it's real different," Wilkens
said. "It was a very tough point in the game to lose him."
"The left side (of the neck) is sore," Carter said. "I just
tried to get back up. The pain was so excruciating."