Despite such a strong start to the season, the Raptors struggled down the stretch and finished with an overall record of 54-28 and finished 10 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference. To make matters worse, the Boston Celtics balled out over the final stretch and finished with a record of 59-23 – causing the Raptors to fall to third place in the East. Still, they finished with the fifth-best record in the NBA.
Following the NBA’s hiatus, the Raptors slipped to below .500 in their final 18 games with a record of 8-10. Just like real life, injuries ravaged the team with Serge Ibaka missing just over a week with a twisted left knee, OG Anunoby missing a handful of games. Even worse, Marc Gasol suffered yet another injury and was ruled out for 6-8 weeks, putting his place in the postseason in doubt.
With the postseason in plain sight, Serge Ibaka was still considered day-to-day, while Gasol was out for at least another month. The Raptors were operating with Chris Boucher as their starting center for the final few games of the season and would take on the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs – their opponents finishing with a record of 43-39.
Nick Nurse also tinkered with the starting line-up a little bit more, bringing in Norman Powell to start in place of Fred VanVleet, who would become the team’s sixth man. Elsewhere in the team, Pascal Siakam culminated the season with a selection onto the All-NBA Third Team after averaging 24.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game, shooting 49-percent from the field and 37-percent from three.
The pressure was on for the Toronto Raptors as they awaited the return of Serge Ibaka. For now, they would have to take on the Indiana Pacers without their first and second option at center. For clarity, the Milwaukee Bucks (64-18) would take on the Brooklyn Nets (38-44) in the first round, while the Celtics (59-23) would take on the Orlando Magic (38-44) and the Miami Heat (49-33) would face off against the Philadelphia 76ers (52-30).
While in the West the Los Angeles Lakers (61-21) would take on the New Orleans Pelicans (40-42), who pipped the Portland Trail Blazers to the 8th seed, the second-seed LA Clippers (56-26) would take on the Dallas Mavericks(46-36), the Oklahoma City Thunder (53-29) would face off against the Denver Nuggets (50-32) and the Utah Jazz (51-31) and Houston Rockets (50-32) would resume their playoff rivalry.
Could the Raptors prevail against a tough opponent?