The Toronto Raptors were in the unfamiliar but most welcome position of punching their ticket to the NBA Playoffs with a win against the Boston Celtics. After three quarters of play, the prognosis was favourable, as the Raps held a 12-point lead. However, just as in Wednesday night’s games, the Celtics were in no mood to concede. Coach Brad Stevens was looking for points from someone, and ex-Rap Jerryd Bayless stepped up, pouring in 14 as Boston silenced a sell-out crowd by catching then passing Toronto. The Raps found themselves 4 points down with 3 minutes to play. Fortunately Boston had shot its bolt. The Raps scored 6 straight, then, after Rajon Rondo beat Greivis Vasquez for a layup, the Raps had their final chance before overtime (NO, please, not overtime!). Amir Johnson followed Kyle Lowry to the hoop, and put back the contested layup to re-take the lead. Jared Sullinger’s desperation shot wasn’t close, and the celebrations began.
DeMar DeRozan, who’s been a Rap for 374 games, led all scorers with 30 points, including the marvellous high-arcing fadeaway jumper which pushed the Raps ahead again. His shot wasn’t falling early, but that didn’t deter him, and it re-appeared when most needed. Kyle had an off-night (is he playing hurt?), missing all 6 of his 3-ball attempts. Terrence Ross enjoyed the kind of game which provides us renewed confidence in his bright future. While he made only one of 5 tries from distance, he drove to the hoop effectively, made all 4 of his free throws, grabbed 2 steals and 4 boards – all without a turnover. You don’t come to this site to read raw stats, but I think it’s important to delineate the high degree of progress a game like this one signifies. Jonas Valanciunas didn’t dominate this game like I thought he might, but 13 points (including 7 of 8 from the charity stripe) and 8 boards is a worthy contribution.
For Boston, Bayless’ huge Q4 was the biggest portion of a team-leading 20 points. Jeff Green was healthy enough to add 16. Kelly Olynyk, looking less like a rookie every game, had 10. Let’s hope he can help our national team qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
The Raptors enjoy an off-day before heading south (what a nice idea after such a long and dreary winter) to Florida for games Sunday against Orlando, then Monday in Miami against LeBron and the HEAT.