This time of year requires New Englanders to dedicate at least one weekend afternoon to yard work, setting themselves up for a relaxing evening. And the Celtics did their equivalent of raking the lawn and cleaning the gutters early in taking a 107-89 victory over the Toronto Raptors Saturday at TD Garden.
Rajon Rondo choreographed the Celtics’ offense, recovering from a right ankle sprain to hand out 20 assists before departing with 10:34 remaining.
It was the Celtics’ first double-digit win of the season, and it allowed Paul Pierce (25 minutes) and Kevin Garnett (17) to lounge around waiting for Sunday night’s visit to Detroit.
“Guys were talking about it at halftime,” said Jason Terry (season-high 20 points). “Like, come on, we got it. We had a 16-point lead and let’s get another one. Let’s put these guys away, so some of the guys that log heavy minutes got some rest.”
The Celtics (6-4) have won four of their last five games, but their greatest previous margin of victory this season was 6 points, and they seemed uncomfortable with being in position for a blowout.
The Raptors pulled within 2 points late in the third quarter. Rondo and Terry sparked a Celtics spurt, upping the advantage to 21, but coach Doc Rivers did not feel secure about the situation until well into the fourth quarter.
Terry converted three 3-pointers as the Celtics closed the third quarter with a 16-3 run over 3:18. Andrea Bargnani’s free throw had pulled the Raptors within 63-61 with 3:30 left, but by then the Celtics had clamped down defensively, holding Toronto without a field goal over the final 5:29 of the quarter.
“I thought our defense was the difference,” Rivers said. “I thought in the first quarter our defense was fantastic.”
The Celtics took a 30-17 first-quarter lead, shooting 73.7 percent from the field. The Raptors’ switch to a zone defense then changed the dynamic.
“It’s funny, the zone didn’t hurt our offense,” Rivers said. “But it killed our defense because every time we did miss a shot, the guy guarding you is not the guy that you should be guarding. And so, we had cross-matchups. And instead of just guarding a guy that’s in front of you, we were running across the court trying to find our own guy.
“So in a strange twist, the zone hurt our defense.”
The Celtics led by as many as 16 points in the opening half before Toronto closed to 47-42 at halftime.
Rondo, who sat out Thursday’s game in Brooklyn, increased the tempo late in the third quarter. After the Raptors closed within 2, Rondo quickly got the Celtics into the offense, setting up Terry for a 3-pointer and a 66-61 lead. Jared Sullinger (12 points, 11 rebounds) scored on a drive and Terry hit another three.
The Celtics regained possession after a Toronto timeout, Jeff Green hitting a free throw to make it 72-62 with 1:50 remaining.
Green scored in transition, Rondo found Chris Wilcox for an alley-oop dunk, and Terry got another three to close the quarter.
“Listen, if you’re going to go zone, you need Jason Terry on the floor because he’s a zone-breaker,” said Rivers. “And in Dallas he played a lot of zone defense. That would tell you he probably had a lot of practice with it, and you could see that.”
The Celtics maintained their momentum, taking an 85-64 lead on Sullinger’s two free throws off an offensive rebound 1:26 into the fourth.
Rondo went to the bench and the Celtics lost their way, Rivers calling a timeout as the Raptors pulled within 13.
Then, the reserves regained their composure and finished the victory.
“I thought we got a little bit more organized in the third quarter,” Rivers said.
“We kind of stumbled on something that was working for us and we stayed with it. And Rondo was huge in that because he, obviously, had the ball in his hands offensively.
“But I just think overall, when you hold a team to 89 points, they shoot 43 percent, no matter what you do offensively, it’s your defense that won the game for you.”