Even with the 108-100 loss to the Knicks, there was no dampening the enthusiasm of the Toronto Raptors clinching the Atlantic Division crown for just the second time in franchise history. After five years in the NBA lottery, this is a bloody big deal.
Here is a collection of quotes that provide a taste of the positive feelings and energy of the post game locker room.
“I am only four years in the league and this is the first time I won (a Division),” Vasquez said. “It is an unbelievable feeling. Thank God we got it. Even though we lost and we are not happy about that it has been a great year for us and we are just going to take advantage of this.”
“I think it means a lot to the whole team, especially to guys like DeMar (DeRozan) and Amir (Johnson) that have been here and went through the struggles,” Stone said. “It means a lot to everybody to help them get over the hump and bring them something to be proud about. Anytime you win a Division in the NBA, it’s a big deal. I think we just set ourselves up to be successful with the team attitude and we continue to do that – do good based on how we feel about one another and how we play as a team.”
“We won the Division, it’s a great thing,” Salmons said. “Us four guys coming over from Sacramento from where we started, from where the Raptors started at the beginning of the season to where we are now, it’s a great thing.”
“It’s the first time I win a Division and I don’t really know what it means to win a Division, but I know it is really important for everyone,” Valanciunas said. “So I feel happy, first of all for my team, second personally. I feel happy for my therapist (only half joking, the guy was standing right beside him). I am happy.”
“It’s a testament to how hard we worked and all the progress we made in only one summer,” Ross said. “We have a whole bunch of guys who are willing to work and it’s paying off. (Playoffs are) going to be fun, can’t wait for it, I’m excited.”
“It was sweet sorrow,” Lowry said. “It was very sweet that we won the Division, but it sucks that we didn’t win it by a win, but we’ll take the Division Champ(ionship) any day.”
“It sucks that we lost the game with us trying to hold the third spot, but it felt great to win the Division,” DeRozan said. “I don’t think anybody would have picked us to win it so that’s definitely a great accomplishment. We are still anxious, we want more, we are not satisfied. We still have more basketball to play and a long road to go and we want to take advantage of it.”
“It’s big man,” Amir Johnson said. “It’s big for the city, for the organization, it’s a good feeling. Now it’s just taking the next step.”
Head Coach Dwane Casey:
“I am excited about it,” Casey said. “It is good for us, but I am more concerned about getting better and continuing to play. It is great for the fans, I am excited for the fans. This franchise has had a lot of ups and downs.”
Coming from a team that expected to be in the playoffs in Denver, Stone sums up the feelings on his new team.
“When I got to Denver, it was a team that reached the playoffs every year, so we knew we were going to make the playoffs – no matter what, we had that (in Denver),” Stone said. “At the beginning of this year (with the Raptors), we were losing games. Guys had the playoff mentality, but now you see everybody understanding what it is like. Guys first time being in the playoffs, it’s just a feeling of camaraderie because everyone has contributed to us getting here. Everybody is just so in to each other – helping the next person get there.”
There was an element of its really real that hit Toronto’s locker room on Friday night. From the depths of uncertainty to the heights of winning the Atlantic Division, the Raptors work isn’t done, it fact it’s just begun, but that didn’t and shouldn’t stop the feeling of celebration for an accomplishment no one saw coming.
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“I felt great,” Stoudemire said. “It was a great thing. I felt blessed to be able to persevere through injuries and reach back to my dominant self. It is definitely a pleasure to feel, to be back out there again at that level.”
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“That’s how the playoffs are,” Hansbrough said. “It’s a slugfest. Its physical grind it out tough basketball. You can’t look for a whistle and you have to play tough.”