On an afternoon of horrible basketball that ended withan outstanding overtime, the Boston Celtics looked to their "cover guys" to pull out a victory over the Toronto Raptors, a victoryneither team really deserved.
Ray Allen hit the game winner with two seconds left from deep in the corner to give the visitors a 98-95 victory. It was his seventh trey of the game, and gave him eight points for the final frame and 33 on the night.
The all-star guard has been featured on the cover of at least a half-dozen magazines this fall, along with fellow summer pick-up Kevin Garnett and holdover Paul Pierce as the Celtics (2-0) attempt to get back to the legendary status of the Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish era.
Garnett was the other story of overtime as he scored eight points, six of them on highly athletic plays. He wound up with 23 points and 13 rebounds, despite foul trouble that sent him to the bench for most of the fourth quarter as Toronto mounted a comeback.
"I think some guys on the other end know we don't fear anybody," said Raptors guard T.J. Ford said. "They're going to be hyped everywhere they go, I think everybody's going to be looking to them to definitely be in the NBA finals, but we still are a team that could prevent that."
Even with the effort of the Boston stars, the Raptors were still in a position to at least force a second overtime, thanks to the stellar play of Ford. He was an island of brilliance in an ocean of Toronto ineptitude that spread through most of regulation.
"I'm surprised we actually had a chance to take them into overtime," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. "If T.J. didn't play the way he played, and our defence wasn't as good as it was, we wouldn't have had a chance to win the basketball game."
With 7.1 seconds left in the overtime and the Raptors down three, Ford took an inbounds pass, moved a step over and nailed a trey to tie it.
That set-up Allen's last-second heroics.
"There was a lot of intensity and a playoff atmosphere here," Garnett said. "We knew that it was not going to be an easy game … a team that is playing really well with a lot of confidence. What else could you expect?"
Ford finished the game with 32 points and five assists. He also turned the ball over five times. Chris Bosh had 19, including 9-of-9 from the line, but he had only four points after three quarters.
Then there was Andrea Bargnani, strong in Toronto's first two games this year, both wins. He finished with just nine points on 2-for-13 shooting.
Canada hasn't seen a game quite this bad since the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis. It was only the outstanding overtime that allowed both sides to escape with some pride.
An afternoon of poor shooting
Toronto shot 36.7 per cent overall, but they were down below 30 per cent for most of the game. Boston shot 44.2 per cent, but that again was because they heated up in the final five minutes.
The Raptors forced the contest to overtime when Ford in-bounded to Bosh, then used him for a screen to take the ball back and charge down the lane where he beat James Posey.
Garnett left the game after taking his fifth foul just seconds into the fourth quarter, and that changed the story. Boston led by nine at that point, but the lead was down to three with just over six minutes to go.
Back to the bad basketball both clubs went, as a turnover and two misses by the Celtics and two turnovers and a miss by Toronto took almost another two minutes off the clock and Garnett back off the bench.
A forgettable first half
The first half was a bit like choosing between Cinderella's two step-sisters.
Boston was pretty ugly, shooting .389 from the field on 14-of-36. The Big Three contributed six from Garnett and Pierce and, as a saving grace, 15 from Ray Allen.
The Raptors, however, were horrendous, finishing the first 24 minutes 12-for-42 (.286) and yet, thanks to some solid rebounding, they went to the dressing room down only seven at 38-31.
Most worrisome, however, was the combined output of Bosh (0-for-5, two points from the free-throw line) and Bargnani (0-for-6).
It was Ford's excellent 13-point half that allowed Toronto to stay in the game.
Assistant coach Tom Thibodeau handled the Celtics after Doc Rivers left the club earlier in the day on news his father, Grady Alexander Rivers, Sr., had died.
Raptors placed forward Joey Graham on the inactive list with a strained left quadricep before the game, replacing him with rookie forward Jamario Moon.