In typical fashion, the Toronto Raptors barely escaped with the win on Friday night over the Boston Celtics, and despite allowing the visitors to shoot over 50 percent from the field, the fans in attendance were finally rewarded with the team’s first playoff appearance in six years.
While clinching the postseason berth after Toronto’s 99-90 win in Boston on Wednesday night would have been just fine with the Raptors, there was obviously something much more meaningful when it occurred at the Air Canada Center, and the atmosphere was likely a preview of what’s to come in the postseason.
For a team that hasn’t been relevant since the departure of Chris Bosh and began the current campaign knee-deep in doubt, the scene that played out in the ACC immediately following the victory was never supposed to happen.
Instead, Toronto was projected to be an Atlantic Division bottom-feeder in 2013-14, and at best, the Raptors would provide a steady stream of highlights courtesy of their trio of high-flyers as DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Terrence Ross simply accepted another year of disappointment.
As a sub .5oo team, news of the early-December deal that sparked the turnaround was understandably thought to be the start of the dreaded restructuring process. But GM Masai Ujiri knew better, and while it’s doubtful that he saw this coming so soon, the confidence it took to pull the trigger in the first place is ultimately what mattered the most.
After 19 seasons in the NBA, the Raptors will be making the team’s sixth playoff appearance in a few short weeks, and if things stay on their current path, Toronto will also be wrapping up the regular season with only the second division crown in franchise history.
Now 41-31, the Raptors are within reaching distance of the franchise-best 47 wins set in 2006-07, which was also the year that Toronto won its lone Atlantic Division title and coincidentally finished as the third seed in the East. And if Dwane Casey and company can manage a 7-3 mark down the stretch, the Raptors will have one more reason to celebrate with a 48-34 record.
Having said that, winning the Atlantic Division over the Brooklyn Nets would definitely by a noteworthy achievement, and setting a new team record for victories is nothing to sneeze at. If Toronto fails to reach at least the second round of the playoffs however, the questions that are sure to follow will outweigh much of what’s been accomplished this season.