TORONTO For most of Wednesday's game against Toronto, the Raptors were the better team.
They played with more energy, more speed, more effort.
And then the fourth quarter rolled around, and the Boston Celtics?
They just started to roll all over the Raptors as the C's rallied for a 99-95 win after going into the fourth quarter looking up at a double-digit deficit.
"We didn't play our best game tonight," said Celtics guard Jason Terry.
And more often than not, that spells D-E-F-E-A-T for the C's (25-23), winners of five in a row.
"It shows that you're very resilient as a group, and when things aren't going good, you can still dig deeper and find a way to get it done," Terry said.
Although the Celtics were relatively close to the Raptors most of the game, Doc Rivers did not like what he was seeing from his club.
"I just didn't think we played with a lot of speed and a lot of force," Rivers said. "Give them credit. Some of it was them, too."
"This was a good win for us," he added. "We didn't have it at stages and we just kind of kept looking for the right lineup, the right group."
Rivers finally stumbled upon the right combination in the fourth, a group that was led by Leandro Barbosa who scored 12 of his 14 points off the C's bench in the fourth quarter.
"Great lift" was how Avery Bradley described Barbosa's fourth quarter scoring binge.
"LB played very good today," Bradley said. "It just shows no matter who Doc puts on the floor, everybody is always prepared and ready to give their all every time they're put on the floor, no matter what position. We just go out there and compete."
And lately, win. Boston (25-23) has now strung together five straight wins heading into the always-intense battle with Cross-coast rival, the Los Angeles Lakers.
But before all the attention shifts towards the Lakers, here's a recap of the keys outlined prior to Boston's win over Toronto, and how those factors contributed to the game's outcome.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics will be challenged to keep this from becoming a track meet in high tops. Boston wants to get out and run, but so do the more athletic Raptors. Keeping the game in the low-to-mid 90s would be in Boston's best interest.
WHAT WE SAW: The game's tempo was indeed to the Celtics' liking, even if their play for the most part left a lot to be desired. A strong fourth quarter at both ends of the floor was just enough to squeak out the victory for the C's.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Kyle Lowry: Bradley's defense in many ways is predicated on him being physical with opponents, a tough task against Lowry who has Bradley by (at least) 25 pounds. Look for Bradley to pick his spots more than usual when it comes to pressuring Lowry.
WHAT WE SAW: Bradley had a solid game offensively (11 points), but Lowry proved why the Raptors were so willing to trade away Jose Calderon and hand over the offense to Lowry. He finished with a near triple-double of 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in addition to four steals.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Amir Johnson is a high-energy player, the kind that in the past has caused problems for the Celtics. As a starter for Toronto, he's averaging 14.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and has had double digit rebounds in three of their last five games.
WHAT WE SAW: He continues to produce as a starter, tallying 16 points and 12 rebounds on Wednesday. But like the rest of the Raptors big men, his inability to limit Kevin Garnett in the post and from the perimeter, proved to be the difference in the game.
STAT TO TRACK: Defensive rebounds are always important, but they have been especially valuable to these two teams. During its four game winning streak, the Celtics have ranked 8th in the NBA in defensive rebounds (32.8) per game. As for the Raptors, they are 11-4 this season when they win the defensive boards battle.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston continues to be one of the league's better defensive rebounding clubs during their winning streak, grabbing 35 defensive boards compared to 31 for the Raptors. The Celtics' work on the defensive boards really paid off in the fourth. It allowed them to get out in transition quicker, which led to seven of Boston's 10 fast-break points for the game. And while Toronto had 18 fast-break points on Wednesday, only two came in the decisive fourth quarter.