As the result of a horrible DVR tragedy, I was denied the ability to see this game in it’s entirety. That mean’s an early call to the bullpen, where Zarar Siddiqi and William Lou were gracious enough to come in and pitch a couple innings of relief. This is post-game report by committee, with each of us focusing in on one thing that we took away from last night.

Andrew Thompson:

Learning about last night’s 2-point win over the Celtics didn’t exactly buoy me with confidence at first glance. You’d like to see a team gearing up for an extended playoff run taking it to the lottery teams (like Miami’s evisceration of Detroit last night) down the stretch, rather than squeezing out a last second win at home. But try not to jump to conclusions, as I first did, because the final score doesn’t tell the story that’s worth pulling from this game.

The Celtic’s are not a great team. But these Celtics might be amongst the best teams in the league to have lost 49 games that they’ve managed to make interesting late. Nobody will ever remember that about the 2013-2014 Celtics, but it’s been strangely true. Very well crafted tanking. The point in bringing this up is to note that while the Raptor’s have had a bad habit of coasting against non-playoff teams and losing or almost losing games in the process, this is not an example. The Celtic’s got inexplicably hot shooting when they needed it, and they’ve also got a Rondo-Bradley-Green trio who can play shut-down defense on almost anyone for stretches of time. So resist the temptation to assume that this game was close because of a bad character effort from the Raptors. It was very much the opposite. In grinding out a win that felt like it mattered just as much for the players on the floor as it did for the 19,000 people celebrating on the TV footage that refused to properly save on my DVR, the Raptor’s demonstrated exactly the kind of chutzpah they’ll need in late April (when I strongly recommend that all of you do whatever you have to do to watch playoff games in real-time. Technology cannot be trusted.).

There’s something particularly encouraging about what the way the Raptors eked out this win says about their season. This game came down to 4th quarter execution, heads-up hustle plays, improved team defense and the Raptor’s ability to create points off of turnovers. Those are four of the most important things a team needs to do to make a run in the playoffs. In clinching their first playoff berth in six years last night, the Raptor’s executed on all four fronts.

The Raptors showed that this is no accident born out of Eastern Conference mediocrity. The last time Toronto made the playoffs back in 2008 it was in an “It’s an honour just to be nominated” but we know we’re not going to win kind of way. But this team is poised for something different. To borrow a soon to be incredibly tired phrase from every talking head on TV/radio talking about the playoffs, this is a team that nobody is going to want to play. Which means that we should all be excited to watch.

Zarar Siddiqi:

When, with the game tied, DeMar DeRozan’s layup in transition was sent into the first row by Jeff Green, I lamented the missed opportunity and wondered aloud just why DeRozan never finishes stronger when it counts. Moments later, he used those oft-maligned handles to fake Green inside and pull back out for a soft fade which put the Raptors up two. That sequence was a microcosm of DeRozan’s season in that he was more effective than spectacular. In the post-game interview, the relief and sense of accomplishment was evident. This was a playoff berth that was achieved organically, not through some marquee free-agent signing, nor on the backs of a “superstar”, but though a team coming together when nobody had expected them to, perhaps not even the GM.

The game also featured another moment, maybe one of learning and recognition for Dwane Casey. Casey, who isn’t prone to use offense/defense-specific subs late in games, chose to leave in Greivis Vasquez with the Raptors protecting a two-point lead with seconds left. Rondo, quite easily, took it right at him and scored. After Amir Johnson’s athletic put-back off a Kyle Lowry miss gave the Raptors a two-point lead, Casey didn’t repeat the mistake and put in John Salmons instead of Vasquez. The Celtics ended up shooting a tough, running, three-pointer that didn’t have a chance.

Allowing the Celtics back into the game when they were on the ropes at the end of the third wasn’t so much a lapse in concentration as it was Jerryd Bayless having one of those spells where he starts hitting anything and everything. As he was drilling one-on-one threes I had flashbacks to that game in Detroit when the Raptors came back from 35 down, mostly due to Bayless. If you’re interested, Bayless happens to be on his fifth team in six seasons (including two stints in Memphis) and is a free-agent this summer; it honestly feels that the Raptors face him 23 times a season somehow. On a pizza-perfect night at the ACC it’s hard to dwell on a furious but ultimately futile Celtics comeback, except that the Raptors do have some cleaning up to do before the post-season, regardless of who and where they play.

William Lou:

The biggest knock on Jonas Valanciunas’ performance after last season was his defensive short-comings.

That criticism was entirely fair — his defense was sub-par. He often looked lost in rotation, he was foul-happy, and the referees rarely extended to the bumbling big the benefit of the doubt. Also, he was only 20 years old, and his name isn’t Anthony Davis, which meant that his struggles were to be expected.

Flip the calendar to his sophomore season. Valanciunas is still under the spotlight, and we’re still nit-picking every move he makes. We change our minds, and recalibrate our hopes with each step on his journey. We invested heavily in Jonas’ stock, and we’re constantly clutching the phone, sweaty palms in hand, ready at a moment’s notice to dump, or to hold. We can’t help it — it’s our curse as fans.

But Jonas’ development isn’t for us. It’s for himself, and it’s for the Raptors. It’s not going to be linear. Rather, it will come out in spurts. Sometimes, the difference between his mid-season struggles, and his present-day success, is really as simple as simplifying the game, as Bill Bayno has done with his cheat sheet (h/t Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca). It’s a thin line between failure and success.

Outwork, outrun, sprint
[Set] great, legal screens
Step to [your] man
Block out

And at times, we’re rewarded with a glimpse into the future; some sustenance for our surety. For example, today was the first time I’ve been left in awe of Jonas’ defensive ability. Roll the clip:

Why did this play stick out to me? Because Jonas did everything perfectly. First, he does a good job hedging Bayless on the pick-and-roll. He cuts off the sideline, and Bayless is forced to move away from Sullinger, and towards the middle. Notice how high up Jonas is on this trap:

1

After Bayless gets towards the middle, he manages to throw the ball over-top of Ross into Sullinger’s hands. However, despite hedging so hard on the initial action, Jonas is able to recover in time, and positions himself perfectly. He leaves enough space to guard Sullinger on a potential move towards the middle, while also making himself available on a closeout.

2

Turns out, Sullinger decided to drive, rather than spot-up. Jonas does a good job there by funneling him towards the middle, where help defense is available in the form of Amir Johnson. However, Jonas is able to parlay his quickness and length into an effective contest on Sullinger without Amir’s help. This is key because Amir is free to box out Olynyk on the weak side. Without fouling, Jonas stays with Sullinger on every step of his drive, and forces him into an extremely tough shot over a taller defender.

3

Finally, to top it all off, Jonas collects the defensive rebound, protects it at first, then hits up Lowry for the pass. Kyle is then able to take it the length of the court in transition for a layup. That right there is a perfect defensive possession from a 21 year old center. How about them apples, eh?

  • Just a fan

    OMG playoff!!! Way to go guys, and thanks for this nice write up.

  • Fabio

    Great article! Don’t understand people hating on the raps sayin the seasons gonna be a bust and there’s no future without a high pick. C’mon folks, let’s enjoy this for what it is, great team ball from a bunch of good players with lots of potential! Go Raps!

    • FREEJV

      any pick is a high pick when masai is your GM. i expect another kenneth faried type of talent with our late teens pick.

  • Minks77

    LETS.GO.RAP-TORS!!!!!

  • Quest

    Drake’s right. We made it!

  • lewro

    “That sequence was a microcosm of DeRozan’s season in that he was more effective than spectacular”
    good insight! I would add that this is something that ross needs to learn. he did so in this game on a fast break wherein he made a layup rather than over-extend himself for a dunk and the result was an and-1. however, he too often over-complicates his shot attempts and avoids contact. i think he plays too much nba2k bc some of his moves/decisions don’t translate to physical reality. you can tell demar practices the right way: consistency, fundamentals, reading plays, mechanics and coalescence. if ross learns to emulate this rather than nba2k – watch out! he will be a better player than demar (all around) and a tmac-lite.
    im happy the raps made the playoffs but more excited about the potential of ross and jv.

    • Icarus Descending

      I wholeheartedly agree. The most enjoyable part of the season for me is seeing how far JV and Ross have come and very much looking forward to see them grow further in the playoffs.

    • j bean

      DeMar added a lot of muscle between his second year and now. Give Ross a year or two of working on his body and he’ll get to the line a lot more. He has the quickness and the smarts on D to round into a star 2 way player.
      The Raps and the Nets are probably the most fun teams to be a fan of at the moment. The Nets fans really believe they can go to the finals. Raptors fans are thinking maybe in a couple of years. We are so full of doubt it is a huge surprise whenever they beat a good team. I’m hoping they can surprise us a few more times during the playoffs

      • Mexiballer

        For me personally, I dont doubt their starting five as much as I do the bench. I doubt that the bench can hold their own in the playoffs when they meet another top five Eastern conference team.

    • Mexiballer

      I totally second that. Ross can be an all star if he learns how to play fundamentally strong. The guy has more natural ability then most players in the league. Thats omething you cant teach.

  • afrocarter

    It’s fitting that, for the win that sends Toronto to the playoffs, it took a TEAM EFFORT to write the post-game!

    • jakdripr

      It’s also fitting that the final two baskets were made by derozan and amir, pretty much the faces of the raps for these past 5 years.

      • James Slim

        Agreed – when I went on holiday to Toronto and saw the Raptors for the first time, only Amir and Demar remain from that team – 2012!

  • Maputo88

    Played as if a play-off game, a rotation of only 7 players. I was a little surprised we did not see de Colo, but glad we had almost no time for TH and Novak. Good coaching job.

    • why

      what do you think has happened to TH? his play has really fallen off.

      • Roarque

        I don’t agree – even last night he stepped in for less than a minute before the half and added value. Tyler is a victim of the King’s arrival. The vets from Sactown appealed to Dwane from the instant they arrived and their play has been one of the cornerstones of the Raps success this year. Tyler has become Dwane’s fourth choice at power forward because of his defense.

        • Mexiballer

          I have a feeling hell get more time in the playoffs when things start to get rough.

          • FREEJV

            wont get much time in playoffs i dont think. bulk of the minutes will go to JV Amir and Pat.

            • Mexiballer

              I agree those three will get more time. Im saying I think his intensity level and physicality will be needed in stretches more then it is needed now.

  • why

    I am a regular reader and occassional poster on this site. whether you are like me or a frequent poster like Matt52, Niklana, etc. the one thing we all have in common, despite all our different views and opinions, is that we love The Raps. This franchise had been listing aimlessly sine TJ Ford got injured in Atlanta to the time Rudy Gay got traded yet we all stuck through it! Yesterday was a special day

    • DryDry

      Yep that moment when (was it Horford) f’d upTJ’s neck/back, things went in the toilet.

      We had a great two headed guard monster. We were rolling. Then poof.

      GAHH here it is
      I forgot Mitchell ran out onto teh floor PISSED
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z1fySRESrE

      • JonasBrutha

        Gotta love Sam eh? “What the fuck was that?” Rarely do you ever see a coach run to his player’s aid like that. If it happens, its usually when they don’t want their guy to get kicked out of a game in a heated situation. In fact, it’d be great to see Casey show a little more emotion rather than just thrusting his arms up in the air and talking to himself.

  • Ion66

    Toronto, a town with one team in the playoffs, and another in the pray-offs.

  • RickE

    10 game over .500 with 10 games left and a playoff birth sewed up for
    the first time in 6 years. Two promising young players in TR & JV, a
    very good point guard in KL, a great glue guy in Amir, a very good
    first big off the bench in P-Pat, an all star shooting guard in Demar
    Derozan and the reining GM of the Year ….The Raptors cupboard has very
    rare been this full….Regardless of play off outcome this has been a very
    successful season…..well done Raps!!

    • Steverino

      Let’s go over those:
      2 promising young players in TR & JV, both drafted by a flukey Colangelo.
      A very good point guard in KL, acquired by a totally flukey Colangelo.
      A great glue guy in Amir, acquired by a for-sure flukey Colangelo.
      A very good first big off the bench in P-Pat, acquired by the brilliant MU, who clearly knew what he was doing.
      An all star shooting guard in Demar DeRozan, drafted by the always flukey Colangelo.
      The reigning GM of the Year, mentored by the flukey Colangelo.

      • FLUXLAND

        So, in 7 years he’s fielded 2 first round exit teams that won their division in a Titanic Conference? Sheer brilliance, you say? That’s a really high standard you hold.

        • Steverino

          No, actually I never said sheer brilliance. Just credit where due, that’s all. I know reading comprehension or logic isn’t your strong suit, so I’ll forgive you.

          • FLUXLAND

            Reading comprehension? You may want to get your money back from whatever clown college you attended – I posed a question, I didn’t make a statement.

            But, leave it to you to put a roses and lollipops spin on Colangelo. Or at least, imply so, as I am sure you will follow up on this with something along the lines of “I didn’t say anything other than those players were brought in while Colangelo was GM” – something everyone is aware of, so what exactly was the point of you post? And why exactly is MU brilliant?

            • GetLicks

              No no, HE made a statement.. And you just assumed what he was saying was that Colangelo’s decisions were sheer brilliance. Then made a sarcastic/condescending comment about him under your false assumption in the first place:

              ‘Sheer brilliance, you say? That’s a really high standard you hold.’

              Since he never once said Colangelo’s moves were brilliant, it seems you’re the one who attended some clown college. Let me make an assumption: you didn’t go to college, and may or may not have even finished high school…considering your reading comprehension is eclipsed by that of an elementary school child.

              • FLUXLAND

                Hooked On Phonics failed you too?

                I asked a question. Under the assumption he agreed to it, I followed it up with my opinion of him holding high standards. (I should have had a would between the you and say, to make things clearer for both you,but yeah my bad for forgetting what level of understanding I am dealing with).

                Thanks for chiming in and completely failing, but then again you’re used that, right? False assumptions and all of that. Nice work.

    • Haim not Feldman

      You fo’got Famous Grevis. He’s the Raps’ Jamal Crawford.

      • FREEJV

        ……..

  • Sal

    Next up, Atlantic Division Title and then some

  • DC

    Ross has made great progress compared to his freshman year, notably in his self-confidence – evident in his body language – which translates to his game. He now knows that he can compete with the best. Could be the “elite” player that some armchair GMs wanted the team to tank the season for, in hopes of landing in the draft?

    • mountio

      Not if Casey keeps killing his confidence by refusing to play him in key situations, despite him being a much better player than the alternatives (JS, GV)

      • CJT

        He will get his chance. Be patient.

      • Mexiballer

        Casey will slowly give him more time as he comes along, just like he has with JV. Casey is old school that way. Coaches like Popovich do the same thing and no one argues with his success. I like the way that Casey is developing players. I know that I am in very small minority of Raptor fans.

      • asifyouknow

        Mr. Mountio, Ross is out of position, he is actually a shooting guard. Most players in the NBA at his position are six-nine plus and have a bigger body.

        The poor guy has talent but because- the position he is playing- he gets pushed around too much.

        The “alternatives” have taking Toronto from a loser to a winner; and this has been proven once again in the last 10 games, IF THE BENCH SUCKS THE TEAM SUCKS.

        Apparently you did not get that memo…lol

        • mountio

          I have no problem if we need to take him out because hes getting outmuscled. It doesnt happen much, but KD is an example where we had to put Amir on him cause TR couldnt hang (not like many can hang with KD… but nonetheless).
          On the other hand, when we are choosing Greasy Baskets to cover Rondo (result, blow by for open layup) and then John Salmons the next possession over Ross … that’s just a slap in the face to Ross, not to mention the the wrong decision to help the team win.

          • asifyouknow

            I disagree with you, those guys have been a good job on defense.
            Against Boston in Boston Rondo had participated in 18 straight point by scoring or assisting , after Vaz came in he was shut down, Vaz height clearly bothered him, vs Boston at home (called out by the coach) NOBODY was rotating and helping, that is reality and NOT the misled perception many fans have in this board.
            Don’t know how much NBA you watch, I have the TV paq so I watch many different teams, so let me tell you… No one is stopping guards from going to the basket, this the NBA, some -as Vaz-, get beat by a step and some by a half step, there is no way to stop it.
            They get there and score, the only way to stop them is rotating. I’m a spurs fan, they are masters at this team defense, Parker and Mano get beat all the time but Tim and company are waiting in the paint so many don’t even try…lol

  • WILLIE C

    It will be interesting how the Raptors do in the next 3 games, all teams that are competing for a championship. I understand that sub 500 teams are doing there best to spoil playoff teams which makes these games close, so I wonder how the Raps will do against teams who are trying to compete for home court advantages. The final 7 games are a different story, the Raps should theoretically win them all, I hope we finish strong, even getting 1 of the 3 next games will say a lot about the Raptors, perhaps the Raptors can make us forget about that last game with the The Thunder.

    • GoingBig

      The 3 tough teams(MIA HOU IND) – here is where they can learn a bit more about competing with a high-ranked team
      Other than that I’d prefer to see
      – rest for Amir Johnson (maybe with some games off or a 10 day contract player coming in)
      – rest for Lowry and DeRozan
      – testing out Fields again to see if where he fits onto the bench
      – testing actual plays for Steve Novak’s 3 pointers

      • CJT

        The roster is full, the team can’t add a 10 day contract without freeing up a roster spot. And no, sending someone to the D league doesn’t count, they have to be waived. Not going to happen.

    • FREEJV

      actually our next game is against Orlando. so you messed up on that. last 6 are against non playoff teams.

  • jonasbrutha

    At the risk of sounding like an incredible homer, can you guys post a link of the players’ reaction after the buzzer sounded last night? Thanks

  • Pedro-

    I have been following blogs of our potential playoff opponents. It is very evident that they don’t think much of our team and prefer to meet us and avoid each other in the first round. If this mentality also exists among their players, it could be a big advantage for us. This team can compete with anyone and let them underestimate us. Interestingly though, I have also noticed a striking difference in confidence and belief among raptor fans and others. I hope a deep run in the playoff changes this negative attitude .

  • Take it in

    The raps worked hard to make it remember the beginning of the season only 31 games analytic fools hard work always pay of work hard and anything is possible. Hard work always beat talent