TORONTO — Luis Scola scored on a fast-break dunk in the first quarter of Toronto’s win Friday night, and shot a grin at the Raptors bench, where every player was on his feet in wild celebration.
The 35-year-old Argentine forward set the tone for a solid 105-91 victory over the Boston Celtics, that capped a gruelling stretch of four games in five nights.
The sizzling Raptors are 8-2 in March, and have gone 12-4 since the NBA all-star break, and with just 14 games left in the regular-season, are bent on heading into the playoffs at their very best.
"This perception of this switch in the NBA… a lot of players and teams think when the time comes we’ll flip the switch and: I’m going to play well. It doesn’t really work that way," Scola said. "It might work that way for Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in his prime.
"When you do things right every day and we’re ready to play and we approach the game the right way every day, hopefully when the time comes, you’re ready."
Kyle Lowry scored 15 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter to top Toronto (47-21), while Scola scored all 17 of his points in the first quarter. DeMar DeRozan finished with 15, while Bismack Biyombo had 11 rebounds.
Asked about Scola’s performance, DeRozan had the post-game locker-room roaring.
"That’s what the old man do," he joked. "The engine runs well in the beginning, but hey… he’s like an old-school (Oldsmobile) Cutlass. He gets you where you want to go, but don’t rely on him for any road trips."
Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points to lead the Celtics (39-30), in their fourth consecutive loss.
Canadian Kelly Olynyk, playing his second game after missing 12 with a shoulder injury, had five points and four rebounds for Boston.
The Raptors, who continue to chase the Cleveland Cavaliers for first place in the Eastern Conference, raced out to a 19-point lead and looked headed for a rout of their Atlantic Division rival, which dropped two spots to sixth in the East with the loss.
But the Celtics clawed their way back to within five points to end the third quarter. Asked what prompted the Raptors defence to lock down in the fourth, coach Dwane Casey said "Getting your butt kicked. I thought our guys did a good job of turning around and fighting back after they made the run."
Lowry came up big in the fourth, scoring 10 points in the first five minutes. His second consecutive three-pointer put the Raptors back up by 17 points with 7:08 to play. The all-star guard hollered in the direction of the Boston bench, but said he was talking to a Celtics fan.
"I would never disrespect a bench. I have the ultimate respect for those guys," Lowry said. "It was definitely not towards them and I went and told them that. It was to a fan who was talking trash the whole game."
Lowry drilled another three with four minutes left to put the game out of reach, to the delight of the capacity crowd of 19,800 at the Air Canada Centre.
"This is a good win for us. It’s a good test. Four tough teams, two on the road, two at home. It was fun," Lowry said.
The Raptors, who were swept by Washington in last season’s playoffs, are intent on a better performance this year, and DeRozan echoed Scola’s words. They don’t want to wait for the post-season to perform well.
"We have to get better, this is the time of the year when we have to get better," DeRozan said. "What we did in the beginning of the season really don’t mean nothing. We’ve really got to figure out and understand who we are now, especially going into the post-season."
The Raptors roared out of the gate, and backed by Scola’s early scoring extravaganza, took a 30-14 lead into the second quarter. Boston’s 14 points were a season-low for first-quarter scoring by a Raptors opponent this season.
The Raptors stretched their lead to 19 points early in the second, and took a 55-41 advantage into the third.
The third quarter was a nightmare for the Raptors, who looked nothing like they did in the first half. Turnovers proved costly, and when RJ Hunter hit a three-pointer with three-tenths of a second on the clock, it cut the Raptors’ lead to just 79-74 with a quarter left.
The Raptors host Orlando on Sunday.