After an unusual offensive display by the Raptors led to a 125-114 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Centre combined with a Nets loss in Orlando, Toronto’s magic number to clinch the Atlantic Division is down to 1 with four games remaining. Either a Raptors win over New York or a Brooklyn loss to the Hawks on Friday will end the race for the Atlantic Division crown. In a year of accomplishments for the Toronto franchise, something that has only happened once in their history is about to happen again.
The game against the second last overall 76ers wasn’t one to be remembered. After the lead changed hands early in the first quarter, the Raptors never trailed over the final 43 minutes and 22 seconds. This game was never in doubt. The amount of effort being put out at the defensive end of the court was constantly in doubt, however, as this tilt had the air of an exhibition game where one team was supposed to win and the team wasn’t planning on doing anything about it.
“These are the dog days,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “Teams don’t have anything to play for. Our guys see the computer, they see the standings and all the records and we can’t play that way. I just told them that we have to pick our defense up and not have the mental letdowns we had defensively.”
Offense, however, was never an issue.
This was Jonas Valanciunas’ first game after his unfortunate brush with the law in cottage country. Out-of-towners and famous people should know better than to go through a drive-thru with an open beer in the car. However, with his coaches, teammates and the organization rallying support behind him and apologies made, Valanciunas took his frustrations out on the 76ers as he scored a career high 26 points, collected 12 rebounds and blocked 2 shots.
“I expected it,” Kyle Lowry said. “Honestly, he was either going to play like trash or he was going to play amazing and he played amazing like we expected. It was a tough situation for him to handle – to be going through, but this is our sanctuary – basketball.”
Valanciunas’ performance is part of a recent trend. In April, the Raptors young center is averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“(Valanciunas is) much more aggressive, much more hungry, he wants the ball,” Lowry explained. “Tonight he was literally yelling at me to give him the ball. I got nothing (to do) but give him the ball because he is our big fellow.”
This was Lowry’s first time back after missing three games with a bruised knee and a certain amount of rust was expected, however, there definitely wasn’t any rust on Lowry’s game, especially on offense as he led the Raptors in scoring with 29 points to go with 5 rebounds and 8 assists.
“I was happy to be out there with my teammates,” Lowry said. “When you miss games, you feel like you are letting your team down. It was great to be out there with the fellows.”
Near the end of the game, the Raptors got a minor scare as DeMar DeRozan took a elbow to the face and the resulting cut required three stitches to close. This was the second time in week that DeRozan required stitches and it’s starting to annoy him.
“I went from never having stitches to getting stitches two times in a week,” DeRozan said. “I got 4 on my hand and 3 in my eye(brow).”
The 76ers were led in scoring by Henry Sims with 22 points. Rookie Michael Carter-Williams had 19 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. Philadelphia shot 51.8 percent from the field, but they gave up too many open threes and put the Raptors on the free throw line too often. This was strictly a defense optional game for most of the way.
The Raptors remained tied with Chicago for third place in the Eastern Conference, however, Toronto holds the tie-breaker as a Division leader. They can tie the franchise record for wins in a season of 47 if they can beat the Knicks Friday.
Raptors Step Up To Hold Onto Third, Patrick Patterson
“I’ll be satisfied once we get third spot,” Patterson said. “I am happy knowing we are going to the playoffs, but I’m not satisfied yet.”