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Celtics fall short in 99-90 loss to Raptors

Rajon Rondo's assist-laden first half and a strong performance from the bench were not enough to lift the Celtics over the Raptors on Wednesday night.

Jared Wickerham

After four days off, the Celtics were back in action on Wednesday night against the Raptors who, surprisingly enough, still sat atop the Atlantic Division despite dropping four of their last six games. Toronto wasted no time in getting off to a strong start, using an 11-2 first-quarter spurt to lead 31-22 going into the second. A 17-2 run by the Celtics early in the second quarter gave them a brief lead before the Raptors recovered to take a 55-46 advantage into halftime.

A sluggish third quarter for the Celtics gave the Raptors a 77-62 lead heading into the final quarter before Boston's bench helped the C's pull within three points with 1:31 remaining. The Celtics couldn't quite catch Toronto, however, and ultimately fell 99-90 despite a strong second half from Jared Sullinger.

The two squads will play again on Friday in Toronto, but before that, here are four takeaways from tonight's game:

Ross, Lowry make the difference

Toronto's Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry combined for 47 points, including nine three-pointers to help the Raptors hold onto their lead in the fourth. Time and again when the Celtics looked on the verge of re-taking the lead, Ross and Lowry came up with big shots. With the Celtics down just three with 1:31 remaining, Lowry and Ross knocked down two straight threes to effectively clinch the game. They don't always have good shooting nights like they did on Wednesday, but Ross and Lowry showed an ability to make tough shots in a game Toronto really needed to have on the road.

Vintage Rondo on display

Rajon Rondo came into Wednesday averaging 11 assists per night over his last 10 games, an impressive trend that continued against Toronto. The 28-year-old picked up six assists in the first quarter alone and had 10 midway through the second before finishing up with nine points, 14 assists, and four rebounds. Rondo's line would have probably been even more impressive had a stray elbow not caught him in the forehead in the third quarter, causing him to leave the game and receive nine stitches before returning in the fourth.

Valanciunas continues strong March

Jonas Valanciunas has had a strong month of March, nearly averaging a double-double at center for the Raptors. Valanciunas' inspired play continued against the Celtics, with the 21-year-old scoring 15 points and hauling in 14 rebounds. The Lithuanian native was a big part of Toronto's heavy advantage on the boards, as the Raptors hauled in 48 rebounds to Boston's 36. Valanciunas has become an important player down low for the Raptors, something that was quite noticeable tonight against the C's.

Celtics bench shines

The performance from the Celtics bench was one bright spot, as six Boston bench players combined for 51 points and 18 rebounds and almost lifted the team to victory in the fourth. Jared Sullinger shook off a sluggish start to score 26 points, grab eight rebounds and add four three-point makes. Chris Johnson, who has earned himself a lot of deserved praise (and a long-term contract) this season, had another solid game off the bench. Since joining the Celtics, Johnson has posted strong shooting numbers all season and had made an impressive 39% of his threes and 47% of his field-goal attempts heading into tonight. Johnson was his usual efficient self against the Raptors, making five of his eight shots, including one three-point attempt, to score 10 points.

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