The Boston Celtics look to remain perfect in Atlantic Division play and beat the Toronto Raptors for the nine time in 10 meetings Friday night at the TD Garden.
Earning a third straight division crown is practically considered a foregone conclusion for Boston (11-4) - every other team in the Atlantic is under .500. However, the Celtics have struggled to beat division foes in their last two games, needing overtime to defeat New York 107-105 on Sunday and winning 113-110 over Philadelphia on Wednesday.
The Celtics received 60 points from Paul Pierce in those games, including 27 in Wednesday's win as they rallied from a six-point deficit entering the fourth quarter. Pierce has logged his highest totals of minutes this season in the last two games, playing nearly 43 against the 76ers.
"Paul, to me, was the savior of the game," coach Doc Rivers said. "I played him way too many minutes, but that happens once in a while. I told him I'd make it up to him with a 25-minute game somewhere down the road."
The Celtics have won 10 straight home games against division opponents since a 95-90 loss to the 76ers on March 24, 2008. Toronto has lost 11 of 13 in Boston but did win there Jan. 23, 2008, for its only win in the last nine meetings overall.
Pierce averaged 24.3 points in last season's four-game sweep of the Raptors (7-9), his same average against Atlantic foes this season. He's scoring 20.1 points per game overall and shooting 51.0 percent from the field - Pierce is a career 44.4 percent shooter.
"He's doing everything you ask him to do," Rivers said. "He's guarding guys, he's rebounding, he's making big shots, he's taking charges, I mean, I don't know what else."
Pierce's strong play has helped Boston overcome some perimeter woes. The Celtics are shooting 26.2 percent on 3-pointers over their last nine games after shooting 45.2 percent during their 6-0 start.
Ray Allen is at 29.0 percent from beyond the arc this season. The veteran has never shot below 35.0 in his career.
"You've got to stick to what you do," Allen said.
Allen's philosophy is shared by Toronto star Chris Bosh, who is going through his own woes from the field. Bosh has made 10 of 33 shots in the last two games, but said that isn't going to deter him.
"If I'm open I'll continue to shoot," Bosh said. "I practice that shot all the time. If it doesn't go in during the games, I can't worry about that."
The Raptors have lost four straight on the road after a 116-81 loss at Charlotte on Wednesday. Toronto shot a season-low 34.5 percent and scored 35 second-half points.
It was just as bad on the other end of the floor as the Raptors allowed their seventh straight opponent to score more than 100 points. Toronto is yielding an Eastern Conference-worst 108.6 points per game.
"They had quicker hands, quicker feet and were quicker up and down the floor," coach Jay Triano said.
Bosh should be matched up with Kevin Garnett on Friday. Garnett and the Celtics limited the Raptors star to an average of 16.5 points on 42.9 percent shooting last season.