The Toronto Raptors can cross clinching a playoff berth off of their to-do list. Surviving a 105-103 contest against the Boston Celtics that was too close for comfort, the Raptors will go to the postseason for the first time since 2008.
After a picture perfect shot from DeMar DeRozan for his 29th and 30th points of the game, and a put-back bucket from Amir Johnson off of a Kyle Lowry attempt, the Raptors were victorious.
“It was fitting that DeMar got it going there at the end,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “He had a tough shot over [Jeff] Green who was playing tremendous defence on DeMar and then Kyle goes to the basket on a set play and Amir follows him in. It was fitting for those two guys because they’ve been through the thick and thin, the good times and the bad times.”
Casey spoke at length about the challenge that lies ahead for his team, while also reminding the assembled media that he has been through the postseason routine many times before.
“My word is we’re not satisfied,” Casey said. “We’ve got to continue getting better. This franchise is built, is fit for a championship environment. That’s the culture I want to bring from Dallas, when we won the championship. I know it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, but I know what it takes to win in this league. Defence wins. We’re building that environment here, that culture.”
While Casey was discussing the evolution of his team over the past three years, Johnson shared a special congratulations he received in the Raptors locker room.
“My grandmother called,” Johnson said. “She said that she was proud.”
DeRozan appreciated that the moment came at Air Canada Centre.
“It means a lot,” DeRozan said. “Honestly, man, especially with me and Amir and what we’ve been through here with the tough seasons, through the ups and downs and the struggles and we stuck with it. So it’s definitely cool to get it in front of our home fans and see the reaction they gave us.”
The two embraced the city together and both pledged to get the franchise back on track through a rebuilding process that isn’t easy on anyone involved.
“It makes it feel all worth it,” DeRozan said. “The hard work, the struggles, the nights going home just frustrated, don’t want to turn on any sports. It really shows you that if you stick at it and don’t give up, not to sound cliche, that it definitely pays off.”
With the organization for each of the past three seasons, Casey was proud of the maturation of his team to help them get to this point.
“It’s growth,” he said. “Understanding of what it takes. The believe that defence wins, the commitment of togetherness wins, bonding to the culture.”
Making it to the postseason for the first time in his career, DeRozan was thankful it has happened with Casey holding the reins.
“The hard work that Case put in every single day since he’s been here, since the lockout year, you definitely see it paying off,” DeRozan said. “It’s paying off. It’s even sweeter to have our head coach that’s been through the struggle with us share this moment with us too, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
In the immediate aftermath of clinching a playoff berth, the Raptors locker room was an even mix of measured happiness and future-focused resolve.
“It’s a satisfying, kind of overwhelming feeling,” Johnson said. “At the same time, we know we’ve got a lot more to accomplish.”