If $34 million is worth 17 points, 11 rebounds and a couple late free throws off an offensive board to steal a win against the Celtics, then I can get used to what Amir Johnson has to offer. Johnson did just that this afternoon at Air Canada Centre, notching both free throws after grabbing a Leandro Barbosa blocked shot with under three seconds to go, handing Toronto its third straight win, 102-101 over Boston.
Johnson did his damage off the bench in just 24 minutes, though his lack of playing time can be attributed to the five fouls he picked up in a continuing trend of his inability to stay on the floor. Still, flashes of greatness for a 23-year-old in a league low on talented big men is a nice sign, and Johnson has been showing more and more of late — this afternoon was the seventh time in the last 10 games he’s scored double figures off the bench, a string in which he’s averaged 10.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and blocked a total of 13 shots. Johnson was especially efficient in this one, making 4-of-5 shots from the field and connecting on all nine of his free throw attempts, making him good on 37-of-41 for the season after shooting just 63.8% from the stripe last year.
Johnson’s late clinchers did their part to escape a near-embarrassing loss, which would’ve been made possible by a 17-1 Celtics run that erased an 11-point Raptors lead in the fourth. After a Barbosa three mde it 93-81 with nine minutes to go, Toronto went out and missed 10 straight shots, and back-to-back Ray Allen threes made it 97-94 Boston with 3:38 remaining. The Raptors grinded it out, clawing to within a point on a Sonny Weems layup with 18 seconds left and regaining possession on an Allen turnover immediately after, setting up Barbosa’s drive and Johnson’s free throws to make it 102-101. A Paul Pierce jumper rimmed out at the buzzer, putting Toronto’s fifth win of the season in the books.
The Raptors, playing shorthanded with Peja Stojakovic and Jerryd Bayless still en route after yesterday’s trade, picked up 29 more from Andrea Bargnani, though his two boards and fourth quarter disappearing act might be the points of criticism this time around. In his defense, Bargnani was far from the only Toronto player with a quiet finish — Jose Calderon, making his first start with Jarrett Jack gone, had just two points and no assists in the second half while missing all five of his shots, finishing with just 11 and two for the game. DeMar DeRozan was again invisible, scoring just six points in 32 minutes, and Sonny Weems needed 20 shots to get his 16 points and struggled to keep pace with Pierce, who had 19 points and got to the line 13 times. Reggie Evans was a bright spot, scoring a season-high nine points and grabbing 16 boards in 32 minutes.
Enough about foul trouble, rebounding and poor finishes, though — the Raptors are winners for the third straight game and against Boston for the first time in nearly three years. Sure, Rajon Rondo sat this one out with a hamstring injury, but KG, Allen, Pierce and whichever vets are running alongside them are still nothing to shake a stick at. Well, except Shaq, who missed six of eight shots from a combined four feet and fouled out with over seven minutes remaining in this one. Point is, a win is a win. This one is pretty sweet, too.
Now 5-9, the Raptors get a couple days off at home before a guaranteed laugher on Wednesday against the Sixers, who Toronto beat in Philly on Wednesday night to start the streak.