It was a historic night for the Boston Celtics even if the final score (a 112-88 Celtics win) suggests it lacked excitement.
With their championship experience and one of the premier coaches in the sport, the Celtics will be a tough playoff out regardless of their seeding.
But that doesn't mean that the Celtics (who entered the night tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference) would mind improving their position over the regular season's final month.
With only a game between them and the fifth-seeded Chicago Bulls (who have a late game against the Sacramento Kings tonight), a home date with the Toronto Raptors looked like just the type of game they needed. Considering the Celtics were less than 24 hours removed from a head-scratching 26-point loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, though, they're not in a position to overlook this kind of game.
Luckily, it was a fact apparently not lost on coach Doc Rivers. After a frustrating first quarter left the Celtics facing a one-point deficit, a re-energized Boston attack led to a blistering 28-18 attack in the second quarter that gave the club a 49-40 lead at intermission.
After another plus-10 quarter advantage (32-22 in the third), Rivers bought his veterans some needed rest on the back end of a back-to-back set. It also gave Boston its 35th win of the season.
Rudy Gay scored a team-high 19 points for the Raptors, who fell to 25-40 on the year.
Still collecting his check on the defensive end, but his offense is coming.
His box score might not tell the same story (five points, 2-of-7 from the field), but that fails to capture how strong his offensive instincts looked. Using the same athleticism that has aided his ascension up the individual defender ranks, he made decisive dribble moves to work his way near the basket.
His finishing is a bit of a work in progress, but the gathering is coming along just fine. Of course, it's found money when his tenacious defensive effort leads to offense as it did during his third quarter strip of Kyle Lowry and subsequent breakaway layup.
As for his defensive effort on the night, it was nothing short of masterful. He kept Lowry uncomfortable and shortened the Raptors' possessions by keeping Lowry away from the initiating points he was trying to reach.
He may not have impacted the box score the way he had hoped (11 points, 5-of-10 from the floor), but it certainly wasn't due to a lack of effort.
With Bradley supplying the suffocating defense and Jordan Crawford and Jason Terry giving the backcourt a scoring punch, Lee's biggest asset to this team may be the relentless hustle he showed in this game.
He can make his mark on the glass (four boards in this game) with the type of team rebounding that this undersized squad needs. He's the best backcourt slasher on the team and can make an impact with a horde of willing passers sharing the floor.
His defense gets overlooked at times playing alongside Bradley, but he made DeMar DeRozan work for each one of his 17 points (5-of-13 from the field).
He's never going to be great at any one particular thing, but as long as he's good in a number of areas like he was tonight, he'll be a valuable piece of the rotation.
If Coach Rivers knew then what he knows now, maybe he would have waited a night to get the 35-year-old some needed rest. Pierce was absent from the disheartening loss to the Bobcats, then rarely needed against the Raptors (fewer than 24 minutes).
But the captain still made his presence felt during an historic night for him and teammate Kevin Garnett.
Pierce sensed the tide turning when a 9-0 Raptors run trimmed the Celtics' lead to three points in the opening minutes of the third quarter. He forced his way to the basket on the ensuing possession and worked his way to the free-throw line.
A 2-for-2 trip at the charity stripe not only gave the Celtics some badly needed points, but also moved the Celtics' lifer ahead of the legendary Charles Barkley for 20th place on the NBA all-time scoring list.
Despite the limited workload, Pierce still finished with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists. His team-high 11 trips to the free-throw line helped build Boston's sizable edge in foul shots (28-of-35 to 17-of-19).
Bass has seen his offensive involvement dip this season, and his effort in this game did nothing to bring extra touches his way going forward.
He logged the most minutes of the starting frontcourt and saw more shots come his way than he had in two weeks. But he converted just three of his nine field-goal attempts (11 points) as his mid-range jumper never found its rhythm.
He did fight his way to the free-throw line a few times (where he shot a perfect 5-of-5), but settled for jump shots more often than he should have.
The typically offensive-minded big man made his mark on the defensive end, though. He grabbed six rebounds (five on the defensive end) and swatted away two shots in 27 minutes.
It was a historic, albeit brief, outing for the "Big Ticket."
A flip shot in front of the basket in the first two minutes of the second quarter pushed Garnett ahead of Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West for 15th place on the all-time scoring list. After a timeout a minute later, an appreciative TD Garden crowd greeted Garnett with the first of two standing ovations they doled out on this night.
As coach Doc Rivers cycles through a number of guards whose resumes don't begin with great passers, Garnett's ability to see the floor proves invaluable at times. He flashed that vision with an extraordinary second quarter find of Jeff Green on the perimeter out of Garnett's trademark turnaround jumper.
When Garnett hits the glass (seven boards in just over 20 minutes) and attacks near the basket (12 points, 5-of-8 from the field), he does a lot to mask Boston's interior woes.
Green just looked in complete control when he was on the floor. He consistently made the right decision, whether that meant calling his own number from the outside, bullying his way to the basket or looking for open teammates.
This was exactly what a sixth man was supposed to look like.
With the Celtics sputtering a bit out of the gate, Green came in and poured in a game-high 12 points in the first half. Once the starters lengthened the lead in the second half, Green kept Boston's foot on the accelerator.
He finished the night with a game-high 20 points (his third game with at least 20 this season), shot 50 percent from the field, grabbed six rebounds and tossed out three assists. He also added a pair of steals and a blocked shot on the defensive end.
The Celtics aren't going to find someone to replace the versatile Rajon Rondo, and for parts of this game, that's exactly what the reserve guards (Jason Terry and Jordan Crawford) were trying to do. Both are better scorers than distributors and served this team best when they filled that role.
Terry's the best shooter in the backcourt and gives this offense a new dimension when he's aggressively looking for his shot. A masterful first-half lob to Kevin Garnett out of the pick-and-roll showcased his ability to find success in that situation, but those plays become so much tougher to defend when Terry's a willing scorer.
And that's how he molded his attack throughout the game. He drew defensive attention with his 12 points (4-of-6), then carved up the Raptors defense with a game-high seven assists.
Crawford's hyper aggressiveness will cause a few headaches for Rivers and Celtics fans along the way, but his diverse offensive arsenal is capable of giving opponents migraines.
His attacks in this game didn't look rushed, and he flexed that versatility. He fired from deep when the moments presented themselves and attacked the bucket when the offense broke down. He finished with 12 points and three assists in just over three minutes.
In limited minutes Chris Wilcox gives this team an active interior presence unmatched by his peers. He's not going to see enough floor time to compile a horde of moments, but his forceful denial of Rudy Gay on the baseline and thunderous flush out of the pick-and-roll were both momentum boosters.
Rivers emptied his bench late, and Terrence Williams' five points and two assists in five minutes is worth mentioning.