TORONTO: Kevin Garnett recorded a season-high 27 points as the Boston Celtics continued to prosper in the absence of Rajon Rondo by holding off the Toronto Raptors 99-95 to secure a fifth successive win on Wednesday.
The Celtics, who were expected to fade from the post-season picture when Rondo went down with a season-ending knee injury, have instead gone on a storming run, with all five of their victories coming since the All-Star guard was hurt.
Garnett has been the subject of persistent trade rumours as the Feb.21 deadline approaches but it appears increasingly unlikely that he will be leaving Boston as the Celtics (25-23) tighten their grip on a playoff berth.
Led by Garnett, all five starters reached double figures as Courtney Lee chipped in with 15 points, Leanadro Barbosa added 14 off the bench and Paul Pierce contributed 12 points along with 11 rebounds.
Eric Bledsoe had 27 points, six rebounds and six steals as the short-manned Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Orlando Magic 86-76 on Wednesday.
“We are fighters, we are a team that is going to fight for 48 minutes,” Garnett told reporters. “It’s not always pretty, we are not perfect and we are human but we play hard.
“With Rajon going out, Paul (Pierce) and I really have to facilitate the responsibility of being leaders out there.” The night began with the Celtics holding the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the Raptors 7 1/2 games back in 11th and desperate to cut into Boston’s advantage.
The addition of Rudy Gay and the return of Andrea Bargnani should eventually aid in that effort but they were unable to make a winning impact on Wednesday.
The Miami Heat continued their domination over Houston by beating the Rockets 114-108 Wednesday behind 32 points from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s 31 points and eight assists.Wade also had four steals for the defending NBA champion Heat, who have now won seven consecutive games over the Rockets.
Gay has been an instant success since being acquired in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, leading the Raptors (17-32) in all three games he has played, including a 25 point-12 rebound effort against the Celtics.
Bargnani, who had sat out 26 games recovering from torn elbow ligaments and a strained wrist, showed a little rust in his return to action but the big Italian still made a solid contribution, collecting 13 points in nearly 24 minutes of work.