Instead of playing the final home game of the regular season in front of a quietly disappointed ACC crowd as they have in each of the past few years, the Toronto Raptors unveiled their Atlantic Division championship banner before an electric fanbase on Monday night.
Prior to the deal in December that sparked Toronto’s turnaround, the thought of the Raptors raising a championship banner of any kind within the near future was laughable at best. But as DeMar DeRozan addressed the adoring home crowd and the banner ascended into the sky, the possibilities for this young team seemed endless to those in attendance.
Led by Greivis Vasquez, who scored 25 points and added seven assists, the Raptors topped the dismal Milwaukee Bucks 110-100 despite playing without DeRozan, who took a well-deserved night off after acting as the evening’s host prior to the game. Now 48-33, the win not only set a new team record, it also put Toronto 15 games over the .500 mark for the first time in franchise history.
Chief among the many reasons for the Raptors’ current run of success is center Jonas Valanciunas, who has been critical down the stretch. He contributed another double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds to Monday’s win. Averaging 11.8 PPG with 8.4 RPG in his second season as a pro, Valanciunas seems to have drawn inspiration from last week’s DUI incident, and has totalled at least 14 points and eight boards in each of the four games since.
While Toronto’s defense allowed one of the league’s worst offenses to score 100 points on the Raptors’ home floor, Monday’s post-game focus centered mainly on what this season has meant to both the franchise as well as the city of Toronto.
With only Wednesday night’s game remaining on the schedule however, the Raptors are now in need of a win more than at any other point so far this season if they hope to wrestle the third seed in the Eastern Conference away from the Chicago Bulls.