For the first time in franchise history, the Raptors will be making their fourth straight appearance in the NBA playoffs. The Toronto Raptors was able to secure a playoff spot with a comfortable 94-86 win over the Dallas Mavericks late Saturday night.
The Raptors kept the struggling Mavericks to just 37.8% from the field and their final points scored, to below 90. Both figures speak volumes about the type of defense the Raptors continue to play throughout the second half of the season. The offense for the Raptors was also present as they shot 48.1% from the field and 42.9% from the three-point line.
In addition, the energy was present from the beginning as Serge Ibaka returned from his 1-game suspension. He got the ball rolling on offense quickly with 12 easy points by the end of first quarter and finished the night with a total of 18 points. PJ Tucker also started in replacement of DeMarre Carroll who was nursing a sore lower back. Having both guys on the court from the start meant that the Raptors had the sense of urgency early on and finding their rhythm did not take 2 ½ quarters.
Looking at their 5 game winning streak thus far, specific players have been contributing in subtle but key ways. Jakob Poeltl has been helping Jonas Valancinuas with the 5 position and continues to show great improvement. He has been able to develop his basketball IQ along with a better understanding of his body in the post. He looks more aware on the court and is able to anticipate what his opponent will do next on both an offensive and defensive stand point. He finished Saturday night with 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal.
Aside from Poeltl, there have been various names that have been tried and tested through Coach Casey’s experimental line-ups. Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and Norman Powell have all shown that they can adapt well to whatever environment Coach puts them in. Looking at this group of young men, one can't help but ask, what do they all have in common? Each individual has spent time with the Raptors 905 which is the D-League affiliate of the Toronto Raptors.
Since their inaugural season in 2015, the Raptors 905 continues to be an important tool for the Raptors organization in developing their players. Raptors 905 provides the opportunity for these young guys to get touches and be better equipped for when they do get called up to the Toronto Raptors. They play with confidence knowing that they have been actively working on their craft.
By the end of the night, Raptor fans all over the country let out a huge sigh of relief knowing that the playoffs will be coming back to Toronto. With their guaranteed spot in the post season, all eyes will be on the top tier of the Eastern Conference to determine who will play who. The Boston Celtics are half a game back from the Cleveland Cavaliers which could make the match-ups very interesting. Should Boston take over first place, it would allow the Raptors to avoid the Cavaliers in the second round (which let’s all be real, is what we all want). Though the Celtics have been unstoppable in the second half of this season, luck can only take them so far until the deeper and stronger team emerges on top. Who will that deeper, stronger team be? I guess we’ll have to continue watching to find out.
Sources: ESPN, The Score, Toronto Raptors via twitter