The Toronto Raptors had already won their division and eclipsed the franchise record for wins in a season when they rolled into New York for game 82 and when the Bulls lost in Charlotte there was nothing left to play for in the regular season. Toronto was looking past this game towards a Saturday playoff matchup with the Nets long before the final whistle went. The Knicks won 95-92 when Chuck Hayes made a bad pass on an inbounds play to Nando De Colo and Smith stole it with 5 seconds left in the game. Enough said.
The Raptors had set out to change the culture in Toronto at the beginning of the year. To raise expectations and goals and no matter what happens in the playoffs, this team has succeeded. This season, the Raptors have accomplished something.
“It is a great accomplishment, especially from where we started from,” John Salmons said. “It is always something you can look back on and cherish, winning that many games and winning your division.
“It helps the guys that are coming in the future to set higher goals. When you are used to losing, it is hard to look past 47 wins, but once you get it, you want to get more. Next year, you want to strive for over 49 (wins), you want to get into the 50s and keep striving from there. With a young team, this is definitely headed in the right direction.”
There has been no point in the past six years anyone could have said the goal of this franchise was to set a new high water mark for wins in a season, however, just by doing it, expectations have been raised. Now the players believe they can do it and more every year.
“That’s where we set the bar,” Terrence Ross said. “That is what we should be doing every year – doing better. If we have an off year, we should end with 47 (wins). So now we just go from here and build on it.”
Especially with a young team, winning is motivation. These guys want to get back to this point or better and they know it only gets harder from here.
“It kind of sets the tone for how you want your career to go,” Ross said. “So now you want to do more to make sure this becomes more consistent. You know it is going to be harder, so you just work that much harder to stay ahead of the curve.”
It’s been a long time since anyone in a Raptors locker room talked about striving for 50 wins – can’t remember it ever happening – but after this season, it doesn’t sound all that farfetched. This team is young, willing to work hard and really does pull for one another.
“All it takes is the right chemistry and the right group of guys and you can do whatever it takes,” DeMar DeRozan said. “You don’t need big name players, you don’t need this or that what people say you need and we are proof of that. We will continue to keep growing and keep learning and keep building and on to the next step.”
It should be expected that these young Raptors will learn from their hard earned playoff experience this year and put in the necessary hard work this coming summer. Set the bar high Toronto. Expect more – a lot more. The Raptors expect it from themselves.
Game 1 of the first round of the NBA playoffs opens at the Air Canada Centre with the young up-and-coming Toronto Raptors hosting the very veteran Brooklyn Nets at 12:30pm Saturday.
Amir Johnson: Raptors Are Proud Of This Season
Especially for the guys that play and work all year, we get to sit back and say – okay – we actually did something this season,” Johnson said. “Starting from training camp, to everything happening, to trades, to now this, it is a great honor.”