Play in for what? Raptors guarantee playoffs with win over Hawks

There will be playoff basketball in Canada for the first time since the 2019 Finals.

More RR Content from this game:

Quick Reaction

Rap Up with Kyle and Adon

Before getting to anything else, shout out to the Raptors social team for this glorious 13 second montage.

It was a perfect night for Raptors fans. TORONTO clinched a playoff spot for an eighth straight season thanks to a win and Cavs loss (read that carefully, Tampa is different). Then the Bulls dropped another game to a quality opponent in Milwaukee, which moved the Raptors back up to fifth. There probably isn’t a difference which seed the Raps end up being because seeds two through four in the East all have a 49-30 record right now. All that matters is there will be playoff basketball in Canada for the first time since the 2019 Finals, which seems wild.

On the flip side, the Hawks fell back into ninth which is costly because that would require two wins in the play-in tournament to lock up the eighth seed. Time to break down what happened.

Bench Bigs

Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa and Thaddeus Young helped the Raptors gain an edge in the second quarter after a so-so start. Those three combined for nine of the Raptors 20 offensive rebounds which neutralized Toronto’s anemic 1-13 three point shooting in the first half. Ironically, the one make was by Thad.

While Atlanta was getting its scoring from the perimeter and lobs, the Raptors grinded out a 40-20 points in the paint advantage by halftime and that physicality also resulted in a decisive free throw advantage. As for the aesthetically pleasing things? Precious took care of that.

That’s definitely on the short list of Raptor dunks of the season.

“I thought Precious, Chris and Thad all really impacted the game. They seem to do it together. They impact the game on the glass, it changed the game when they came in there and got all those rebounds. Momentum or spirit wise, it got us going with our hustle,” Nick Nurse said after the game.

Siakam vs single coverage

That strategy was deployed by Nate McMillan for most of the night, and it didn’t work at all. Siakam had freedom early on to dribble near the free throw line and get to work on smaller Hawks defenders.

You can probably count on one hand how many left handed sweeping hooks Pascal has attempted in his career, but hey it was available. Spicy had 16 first half points.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (a guard) found himself guarding Siakam quite a bit too, which is a mismatch in weight class.

Siakam was on pace for another 40 point game, but the Hawks adjusted in the fourth quarter by scrapping TLC for DeAndre Hunter. Atlanta also picked up Siakam before the three point line and sent help.

Winning Time

Through all of this, Fred VanVleet was going through a pretty rough game. He had to chase Trae Young around (26 pts, 15 ast) quite a bit. He had numerous routine looks from three that didn’t fall and ended up shooting only 4-21 from the field. However Fred’s best stretch came at the beginning of the fourth when Siakam was resting.

VanVleet found Boucher for back to back threes and found a lane off a Precious screen for a layup. The basketball gods were smiling on this play to Scottie.

Atlanta responded with an 11-0 run to take a one point lead. Siakam took over on both sides of the ball doing things you won’t see on the boxscore.

A sidenote to part four on this list is Siakam rushing out to contest Bogdan Bogdanovic’s three after stifling Hunter at the rim. Nurse marveled afterwards about how awesome Siakam was on the defensive end, while juggling the main offensive responsibilities at the same time. From a team perspective, Nurse also talked about how the team has come along from earlier in the season where defence was a work in progress.

“The first 25 games of the year we could not execute switching our defensive schemes. Tonight we flipped out of man, flipped to a bunch of different screen and roll coverage, flipped to the box and one. They’ve grown so much in that area,” said Nurse.

Barnes then put the game away with his left hand, locking up that playoff spot that seemed impossible at the beginning of March. Scottie had 19 points and 14 rebounds, adding more to his rookie of the year case while Evan Mobley is sidelined with an ankle injury and Cade Cunningham is playing way less meaningful games.

The Journey

VanVleet and Boucher both reflected on defying the odds to get here postgame.

“Sitting at home last year in April watching the first round of the playoffs, or even the play-in when we felt like we were capable enough to be there stung a little bit. Fastforward to having a group nobody thought was going to be any good, being in this position is good.

If we’re rolling, I think we have the potential to do some damage, some real real damage in the playoffs,” VanVleet said.

“It’s just a good moment for me to realize how far I’ve come. There was a time we were 2-8 at home and we didn’t really know what was going on and people were doubting us a lot. There was a lot of stuff we had to do as a team to change. Personally I had to change my whole game and focus on what was going to help us win,” Boucher added.

What’s Next?

76ers on Thursday. First round preview? Danny Green will FINALLY get his ring in front of the fans, nearly three years after the 2019 playoff run started.

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