With their All-Star resting, the Toronto Raptors set a franchise record for wins in a season. While DeMar DeRozan sat on the bench — in uniform, but with the night off from playing duties — the Raptors picked up an easy 110-100 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks for their 48th victory of the year.
Prior to the game, DeRozan addressed the fans to thank them for their support over the season and asked them to help unveil the Atlantic Division banner that was clinched Friday night. It is the second division title in franchise history.
“We’ve got to have some of the most devoted fans in the league,” DeRozan said. “I’ve been here through the struggles and tough times and our fans were still right there with us on this journey. It definitely felt good to share it with them because they played a major part in it as well.”
After rolling to a 59-46 advantage in the first half, the Raptors extended their lead to 15 points going into the fourth. Milwaukee clawed back, cutting the deficit to seven points, but wouldn’t get any closer the rest of the way.
With DeRozan sidelined, Greivis Vasquez started in his place and led the way with Kyle Lowry for the Raptors. Vasquez scored a game-high 25 points, making 5-for-9 shots from beyond the arc and Lowry scored 24 points. Sophomore Jonas Valanciunas added a 14-point, 13-rebound double-double — his team-leading 25th of the season.
“They gave me a chance to start, I just went out there and did my job,” Vasquez said. “I want to help the team win. It was a fun win. We needed that win. Now we have 48, a franchise record. That’s important, but in the meantime we’re not satisfied. We’ve got to continue to get better.”
With the win, the Raptors remain in control of their own playoff seeding. If they are able to win against the New York Knicks in Wednesday’s regular-season finale, they will finish third in the Eastern Conference. If they lose and the Bulls win their regular-season finale, the Raptors will move into the fourth slot.
It could be easy to get excited about setting franchise records and clinching the Atlantic division, but the coaching staff is doing its best to keep the team dialed in on each challenge as it comes.
“We’ve got a bigger goal,” Lowry said. “We’re focused on the next week. We’re focused on New York and then we’re focused on the first round, the first two games of the playoffs.”
With one of the most unexpected turnarounds in the league, the Raptors had shattered the expectations placed upon them when the season tipped off months ago. They’re working within their own set of expectations now, the ones created after the December trade that brought Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vaquez and John Salmons to Toronto.
“[We] just kept playing,” Lowry said. “We didn’t know what we had. I knew all four of the guys coming in, but we didn’t know what they could bring to the table so we couldn’t really forecast what was going to happen, but I’m glad we made the trade for those guys. They came and they’ve done an unbelievable job and the coaching staff has done an unbelievable job also.”
From the bumpy start to the season, to the days after the trade as the team got familiar with each other, through the rest of the regular season, this group has banded together.
“All it takes is the right chemistry, the right group of guys and you can do whatever it takes,” DeRozan said. “You don’t need no big-name players, you don’t need this, that and the third, what people supposedly say you need. We’re proof of that and we continue to keep growing, keep learning and keep building.”