It’s been five long frustrating trips to the NBA draft lottery for the Toronto Raptors and there is no one left in Toronto that has played in the postseason for the team. Therefore, at the end of regulation time in Friday’s game against the Celtics, it was fitting that current longest serving Raptors, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson, scored the go-ahead and winning baskets in the dying seconds that finally clinched this team a playoff spot.
“It was fitting that DeMar had it going toward the end and he hit a tough shot over (Jeff) Green who was playing tremendous defense on DeMar and then Kyle (Lowry) goes to the basket on a set play and Amir follows him in (and scores),” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “It was fitting for those two guys because they have been through thick and thin, though good times and bad times, so my hat is off to them, but my word is we are not satisfied.”
Toronto traded for Johnson in 2009 and DeRozan was drafted by them that same year and both players have faced their doubters. Former General Manager Bryan Colangelo was criticized for the 5-year contract he signed Johnson to the summer after the team acquired him and Colangelo was further criticized for DeRozan’s extension to his rookie deal. They have since proven Colangelo’s faith in them was justified, but it was a long four years without playoffs for both players until now.
“It’s been six years since this team, this organization made it to the playoffs,” Johnson said. “This team has worked so hard and it was a good game tonight and we deserved it. We have been playing our butts off, playing through injuries. We had our ups and downs. We made it!
“It’s a coincidence at the end of the game me and DeMar (hit) two clutch shots. We’ve been here the longest. It definitely meant a lot to clinch the playoffs.”
Neither DeRozan nor Johnson has made any secret of the fact that they hated missing the playoffs last year. They were frustrated, mad and were going to do whatever it took this season. There was definitely a sense of relief as much as excitement after the fact.
“It is definitely cool to get it in front of our home fans and see the reaction they gave us,” DeRozan said.
Johnson took a congratulatory call from his Grandmother before speaking to the media. This was a big deal to both players.
The Raptors got off to a slow start on Friday, but soon picked up the pace and build a 32-26 first quarter lead. However, like the game in Boston, Toronto gave most of it back in the second quarter as the Celtics were not prepared to just roll over. Lowry gave the Raptors a scare near the end of the first half when he rolled an ankle and went to the ground in pain, but he returned after half-time with a fresh tape job and although he looked a step slow, he was effective and insisted it was nothing.
DeRozan blew the game open in the third quarter with 12 points and the Raptors looked like they about to cruise home with a 85-73 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but again the Celtics refused to cooperate and former Raptors point guard Jerryd Bayless got hot, scoring 14 points to erase the deficit and help the Celtics build a 101-97 lead with 3 minutes to go.
Toronto had gone cold in the fourth quarter and only 10 points in a row by DeRozan slowed the Celtics onslaught. However, at the end, a pass from Greivis Vasquez to Lowry for a layup and then pair of free throws by Vasquez tied the game to set the stage for DeRozan and Johnson to put it away 105-103. The Raptors are now 17-0 when leading after three quarters this season.
This was the 16th time DeRozan has scored at least 30 points in a game this season as he led all scorers with 30 points on Friday. Terrence Ross had 17 points and Vasquez scored 15 points. Somehow Lowry put together 9 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Bayless scored 20 points for the Celtics off the bench and Green netted 16 points as six Celtics players scored in double digits and they shot 52.6 percent from the field as a team.
This was the Atlantic Division leading Raptors 41st win and for only the sixth time in franchise history, they will finish a season with at least a .500 record.
Toronto heads to Orlando to play the Magic on Sunday.
Boston returns home to face the Bulls Sunday.
Raptors Greivis Vasquez Loves This City, This Team
“I just love this team. I just love playing for this city. I am committed to this because I want to win like everyone else in the locker room. At the end of games, I am ready to go. Whether it’s scoring, rebounding, passing the ball or cheering, I want to win,” Vasquez said.
The table is set for Casey and the Raptors to have a winning record on the road. Toronto did their heavy lifting earlier in the season and has one of the softest road schedules possible left.