Do not adjust your computer (and/or smartphone, since it is 2014 after all). This just happened. Following a 105-103 victory over the Boston Celtics, the Toronto Raptors have punched their ticket to the postseason for the first time since 2008! The team now sits at 41-31 with ten games remaining in what has been one of the most successful seasons in franchise history. Back in October, I personally anticipated the Raptors somehow finding their way to the late-April dance, but not this early— not on March 28th. Tonight’s win over the Celtics wasn’t the prettiest one, but it was a win nonetheless. Next step: home-court advantage.
From an offensive standpoint, the Raptors performed better than they have in their past two matchups versus sub-.500 competition. What held the home team back from receiving a higher grade in this section was the cold shooting in the fourth quarter, as they watched their 12 point lead disappear rather quickly. Fortunately, the Atlantic Division leaders were able to dig deep and come away with the victory.
DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 30 points (on 12 of 27 shooting), while Terrence Ross and Greivis Vasquez chipped in 17 and 15 points respectively. The help was definitely needed, seeing as Kyle Lowry‘s streak of games with 19+ points came to an end in this game (he finished with just 9 points). However, it must be noted that the Raptor point guard rolled his ankle late in the first half. Of course, Lowry returned to the game and contributed to the winning cause in other ways— through grabbing rebounds he had no part in pulling down, and really dictating the flow of the team’s offense. The Raptor bigs pitched in as well. Jonas Valanciunas put up a solid 13 points through staying aggressive and getting to the charity stripe (shooting 7 for 8 from the line), while Amir Johnson dropped 8 points, with two of those coming from his game winning tip-in.
While the win was the final result, I’m quite sure that Dwane Casey wasn’t exactly pleased with the defensive effort that the men in white displayed tonight. The Boston Celtics shot over 50% as a team in this matchup, hitting 40 of 76 shots. Rajon Rondo was showing off his usual tricks and getting his teammates in the correct spots more often than not, finishing with a game-high 8 assists, and former-Raptor Jerryd Bayless was a killer, sinking 8 of 13 shots on his way to a 20 point night off the bench.
Even though no Celtic player had a breakout game, the defensive performance that the Raptors put forward was lackluster for the most part— especially in the final frame. In the midst of the offensive struggles, the defense disappointed as well; with Boston catching fire to score 30 points in the final 12 minutes. Luckily, the Toronto Raptors were able to crack down defensively during the quarter’s final stages. It was just enough to let the squad escape with win #41 (and pizza for the hungry fans).
Overall, Toronto was solid on the glass tonight. The team rebounding total of 36 isn’t much to look at, but considering the hot shooting of the Celtics, it makes sense. Boston grabbed 34 rebounds as a team, but only 8 of them came on the offensive glass. In a game like this, second chance points could have made the difference, but the Raptor players were disciplined in their box-outs and accounted well for the players on the opposing team. JV and Amir led the way for Toronto with 8 boards apiece, while Jared Sullinger pulled down a game high 9 rebounds.
Game Ball – DeMar DeRozan
It’s only fitting that DeRozan gets tonight’s game ball. For a franchise that has been a revolving door for talent, some may be surprised that the shooting guard is still around. He’s been here for the tough times, and now it looks like he’ll be a significant piece moving forward. His reward for his persistence? Being an all-star on the first Raptors playoff team in six years. In the postseason clinching game, DeRozan led the team in scoring and closed out the game with 12 much-needed points in the fourth quarter. On a side note: while the team deserves to celebrate for now, they cannot get too comfortable. 10 games to go. There’s still work to do for the Atlantic Division crown.