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Turkoglu MIA as Raptors fall to powerhouse Celtics


Ask Hedo Turkoglu a question, thank him for his answer and the friendly Toronto Raptor forward will unfailingly respond with a cheery, "No, thank you."

It wasn't clear exactly what he was thanking a small group of reporters for yesterday in the wake of the Toronto Raptors' 114-107 loss to the Boston Celtics. A sellout crowd of 19,800 at the Air Canada Centre arrived hoping to see their team continue the remarkable roll in which they had gone undefeated in their past 10 games - unless you count two undressings by the Celtics.

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Turkoglu's politeness was routine.

But given his comments in the wake of yet another desultory offensive outing by the free-agent prize, signed in the off-season for five years and $53-million (U.S.) as an all-purpose facilitator and late-game finisher, perhaps he was thanking the media for the chance to plead his case for greater involvement in the Raptors' attack.

"It's hard for me to tell you right now [what's wrong]" said Turkoglu, who finished with nine assists but scored just five points on two-of-nine shooting. In Friday's win over Philadelphia, he scored just nine points on seven shots and had no assists.

At 6-foot-10, it's his ability to handle the ball in the open floor and make plays off the dribble for his teammates that made him a highly sought free agent this past summer after helping the Orlando Magic to an NBA final appearance last summer.

But in a lineup that often features two point guards in Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon as well as Chris Bosh, who quite rightly gets a high percentage of touches, and Andrea Bargnani, who takes a high volume of shots, Turkoglu is still trying to find his feet as the Raptors (19-19) approach the halfway point of the season.

"I just run on the side and expect them to just pass it to me," he said. "For the past three years, I've been a point guard too, leading the team and making decisions. Still I'm going to go out there and try to do my best and hopefully it will turn around."

More from Turkoglu certainly would have helped the Raptors yesterday. After spotting the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics a 10-0 lead in the game's first two minutes, the Raptors did their best to reel the tough-minded Celtics (26-9) back in.

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They whittled the lead down to four with just over a minute to play. In a similar situation on Friday, Turkoglu worked with Bosh to get him the ball in great position on the floor in advance of what was a game-winning basket.

Yesterday, Turkoglu never touched it and instead Bosh and Bargnani played an odd game of catch - Bosh said he saw the Celtics' Paul Pierce creeping over to double team him and wanted Bargnani to swing the ball to the weak side for what he felt would be an open shot. Instead Bargnani tried to get the ball to Bosh again and the result was a game-deciding turnover, rendering Bosh's 31-point, 13-rebound and four-assist effort moot.

Could Turkoglu have done better? His teammates are certainly open to him trying.

"I think we try to do a pretty good of job of letting him play with the ball and make decisions," said Jack, who was four-of-four from the field in last six minutes of the fourth quarter.

"That's how he got nine assists. ... [But]I have no bones about it. ... maybe that's something we'll look at next time. More pick and rolls and more [isolations]because we definitely need him to score the ball a lot."

Who the Raptors were running their offence through hardly seemed the problem as their six-game home winning streak was snapped as they lost to Boston - short-handed without Kevin Garnett (knee) - for the second time in just over a week.

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The Celtics' edge seemed to be in making their own luck more than anything the Raptors did. There was the gift of the 10-0 lead Toronto offered, even though it's the Raptors who are supposed have the advantage on their traditional Sunday afternoon starts.

But that wasn't the only time Boston forced a game-defining swing. Time and time again the Celtics made plays out of nothing. Individually they looked lucky - a prayerful Rajon Rondo triple off the backboard in the first quarter was an example cited - but it ignores the larger picture where the Raptors failed to execute on two consecutive fast-break opportunities on either side of the Rondo heave and where the Celtics guard got the ball by chasing it down after a Bosh blocked shot.

"We have to create those breaks for ourselves if we want to be really good," Jack said.

The Raptors have closed the gap in the standing between themselves and Boston, though it still looms large. But they haven't quite mastered the Celtics formula of game-in, game-out effort and execution.

"I think we've figured out that once we compete we have a better chance of winning," Bosh said. "We talked about it in training camp but sometimes you think you're doing something but then you find out you're not doing it good enough."

That's one project down or at least well under way. Next will be trying to figure out what to do with Turkoglu.



NOTES The Celtics are trying to keep their momentum even though stalwart Kevin Garnett (knee) has been out for four games with a hyper-extended right knee. They've won three of five including both starts against the Raptors. Helping the cause has been Rasheed Wallace, who started in place of Garnett and scored a season-high 29 points including five-of-seven from the three-point line. ... The Raptors have lost 11 of their past 12 to Boston. ... Rajon Rondo counted his third triple-double of his career. ... Chris Bosh finished 13-of-13 from the free-throw line and completed his 27th double-double of the season, best in the NBA. ... After the game, the Raptors travelled to Indianapolis where they'll meet the Pacers. Former Raptors guard T.J. Ford has been benched by head coach Jim O'Brien for four successive games.

NEXT At Indiana tonight, 7 p.m.


Michael Grange

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