If you haven’t been able to snag tickets to Raptors playoff games, don’t worry. Every game will be broadcast on the giant screen in Maple Leaf Square outside the ACC. “Party in the Square,” as the Raptors are calling it, will start two hours before tip off for all home and away games. DJs will provide tunes and prizes will be handed out. Admission to the party is free, but capacity is limited.
“They’re a good team,” Head Coach Larry Drew said. “They’ve been playing well. They are gearing up for the playoffs. Even minus DeRozan, it just goes to show you how much talent they have on that team. We fell behind, we tried to fight back. We got it under 10, but we just couldn’t get over the hump.” In Toronto, Drew’s comments sound like the eerily familiar voices of Raptors head coaches in seasons past and with the loss, the Bucks guaranteed themselves last place overall heading into the NBA Draft Lottery. The Raptors could afford to rest DeRozan against the Bucks who only had 9 players available as injuries have been an unpleasant theme in Milwaukee all season, however, the rationale really was to hopefully add some ‘pep to DeRozan’s step’ in the postseason.
Kyle Lowry made a strong contribution all game. When the Bucks looked like they were on the verge of completing the comeback in Q4, Kyle drove to the hoop several times for layups. He ended with 24 points. The Raps were expected to own the boards, and did, as two big men enjoyed double-double nights. Jonas Valanciunas’ 14 points and 13 rebounds was aided by hitting all 6 free throws he tried. Tyler Hansbrough’s run of disappointing efforts ended with 12 points and 11 rebounds. One memorable bucket occurred after he received a nifty behind-the-back pass from the always-surprising Amir. Solid passing was in evidence all night. The Raps had 25 assists, including 5 from the solid Nando De Colo, who has pushed aside the pretenders to earn regular minutes. Milwaukee received solid games from Jeff Adrien and top scorer Ramon Sessions, but surrendered 11 steals. With a short bench, they get credit for “winning” Q4 when by rights they should have been cooked. The Bucks had best hope for luck in the Draft Lottery, and good health next season, as they are a lot more hole than donut.
“I think it gets wiped away. I think you are who you are going into the playoffs,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said before the game. “You’re not going to be 10 points better or 10 points worse, momentum or not. “I don’t think you’re going to become something if you have momentum, and all at once become a much better team because you’re playing well going into the playoffs.” On that count, we will have to wait. In the meantime, let’s consider if these Raptors, who set a franchise record Monday with their 48th victory, are the best of the 19 editions of this club. Monday also marked the first time in franchise history the Raptors have ever been 15 games over .500. Casey sounded a little less than thrilled.
“All it takes is the right chemistry, the right group of guys, and you can do whatever it takes,” DeRozan said. “You don’t need no big-name players, you don’t need this, that. . . what people supposedly say you need. “I think we’re proof of that, and we continue to keep growing and keep learning and keep building and it’s on to the next step.” The Raptors stumbled out to a 6-12 season start. The about-face came after the blockbuster seven-player trade in December that sentRudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for Vasquez, John Salmons,Patrick Patterson, and Chuck Hayes. “I’m glad we made the trade for those guys, they came in and they’ve done an unbelievable job and the coaching staff has done an unbelievable job also,” Lowry said.
We can finally exhale. With a 110-100 loss to the Raptors tonight, the Bucks locked down the worst record in the league, and thus will have the highest odds at landing the number one pick and no worse than the fourth pick in this June’s draft. Thoughthis wasn’t the intention at the beginning of the year, we’ve made it to this position. You may pop that champagne you have been saving in your refrigerator. Coming into tonight with a two-game cushion on Philly with only two games remaining, Milwaukee had to win out to not be the sole proprietor of the bottom slot in the the league standings. The Raptors, in their own battle to lock down the third seed in the East, had no plans to allow the Bucks a chance out of the basement, coming out early with way more energy than Milwaukee.
“I’ve been ready for any opportunity since I got here,” said Vasquez. “I’m all about winning and when I have a chance to start, I want to help the team win and have a presence in the game. Now we have 48 and that’s important, but we’re not satisfied and we need to get better. Johnson, hurling into the front row of seats after that monster dunk, took a moment to pop his jersey among the crowd in the sort of small, prideful gesture this franchise had seldom enjoyed in recent years. The veteran power forward, who only returned two games ago from a four-game layoff with a sore ankle, had 10 points, five boards and three assists, working back into 27 minutes of playing time as he continues to improve his game-conditioning after missing contests.
“It definitely means a lot,” DeRozan told reporters after the game. “If you really sit down and look at it, that’s big, to be tied with the franchise record and have a chance to break it. “We’ve come a long way. A lot of people wouldn’t have counted us to be in the position we’re in now. It’s definitely a credit to our hard work, both the players and the coaching staff.” The franchise record currently stands at 47 wins in a regular season, with Toronto needing one win from their final games to set a new tally.
“I’ve been ready for any opportunity since I got here,” said Vasquez. “I’m all about winning and when I have a chance to start, I want to help the team win and have a presence in the game. Now we have 48 and that’s important, but we’re not satisfied and we need to get better. Johnson, hurling into the front row of seats after that monster dunk, took a moment to pop his jersey among the crowd in the sort of small, prideful gesture this franchise had seldom enjoyed in recent years. The veteran power forward, who only returned two games ago from a four-game layoff with a sore ankle, had 10 points, five boards and three assists, working back into 27 minutes of playing time as he continues to improve his game-conditioning after missing contests. “It felt good to get my bounce back,” said Johnson, the fifth-year Raptor. “It made me smile to look up [to the rafters], to have something accomplished, to look up and see a banner up there.”
“You’re not going to sneak around people,” Thibodeau said. “If you’re going to be successful, you have to go through people.” In other words, all systems go and full speed ahead? This is known: The Heat rested LeBron James and Chris Bosh at Washington and the Heat got drilled by the Wizards, handing the Eastern Conference’s top seed to the Pacers. Meanwhile, the Raptors won their home finale against the Bucks. That means if the Raptors win at the Knicks on Wednesday, the Bulls will finish fourth and face either the Wizards or, most likely, the Nets in the first round. If they prevailed in that series, they would draw the Pacers-Hawks winner in the second round. It’s the same scenario if both the Raptors and Bulls lose on Wednesday.
On that count, we will have to wait. In the meantime, let’s consider if these Raptors, who set a franchise record Monday with their 48th victory, are the best of the 19 editions of this club. Monday also marked the first time in franchise history the Raptors have ever been 15 games over .500. Casey sounded a little less than thrilled. “I know it’s ringing hollow, but we still have to continue work to get better,” Casey said. “We’re not where we need to be defensively, offensively for the playoffs. We’re not a veteran team that can take three or four games off and expect to come back and keep the rhythm.”
And perhaps that’s how the team must play in the post-season, resorting to a style featuring solid ball movement and running in transition following stops or turnovers, basically trying to outscore its opponent, which is not in head coach Dwane Casey’s basketball DNA. What can be gleaned from win No. 48 is anyone’s guess, an evening that was more pre-season than end-of-season basketball with the post-season on the horizon. DeMar DeRozan would usher in the banner ceremony, engaging with the fans, then enjoyed his courtside view from the bench as the team decided to sit its all-star wing, even though DeRozan did dress in the event the Bucks somehow mounted a charge.
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