Raptors clinch first playoff berth in five seasons
Published Sunday, April 1, 2007 10:13PM EDT
TORONTO - One goal down, two to go.
The Toronto Raptors are playoff-bound for the first time in five seasons, beating the Charlotte Bobcats 107-94 on Sunday to clinch their first post-season berth since 2001-02.
But there was no pause for celebration, as the Raptors quickly set their sights on their next two goals -- homecourt advantage in the playoffs, and their first division title in franchise history.
"It feels good, but I'm still looking for a better feeling once we get everything underway," said Chris Bosh, who's never played in the post-season. "We still have nine more games to play and we have to focus until we clinch both."
Chris Bosh had 24 points and 16 rebounds to lead six Raptors in double figures. Juan Dixon finished with 15 points, Anthony Parker and Jose Calderon added 14 apiece, Kris Humphries had 13, and T.J. Ford chipped in with 11 plus a game-high eight assists.
The victory marked No. 27 at home for Toronto, tying a franchise high, and boosted their season record to 41-32.
"You feel gratification for the guys, the organization, the fans and what we have been through over the past two-and-a-half seasons to get to this point,'' said Raptors coach Sam Mitchell. "Happy for them, happy for the coaches and myself included. But we've still got some things that we want to try to accomplish.''
Coming off a pair of thrilling wins over Miami and Washington, the Raptors faced an easier foe in the struggling Bobcats. Toronto led from the outset Sunday, taking an 80-71 lead into the fourth quarter in front of 19,023 fans -- just shy of a sellout -- at the Air Canada Centre.
The Raptors poured it on in a fast-paced final quarter, stretching their lead to 18 points on a three-pointer by Parker with just under three minutes to play, and then Mitchell subbed off his starters as the Raptors cruised to victory.
With nine games to go in the regular-season, the revamped Raptors are third in the Eastern Conference -- good enough for homecourt in the first round if they can stay in third -- and are chasing their first Atlantic Division title in the team's history. They have already won 14 more games than they did all of last season, despite a woeful 2-8 start.
"Everybody came to the table this season ready to work, we had positive attitudes, no matter how people really didn't see us coming, we continued to work and set a high standard for ourselves and we're reaching our goals," said Bosh.
"These guys should all feel proud of themselves because when we were 2-8 everyone doubted us," said Mitchell. "But we didn't have any doubt in that locker-room that we were a good basketball team."
The squad's success is vindication for Bosh, who raised some eyebrows last off-season when he signed a contract extension with the Raptors.
"It quiets the people who were like, 'Why did you come here? Why didn't you just go to the States,' you know how that goes,'' said the all-star forward. "It's just a good feeling that my beliefs paid off."
The last time Toronto was in the playoffs, Lenny Wilkens was coach, and the Raptors won 12 of 14 games down the stretch to clinch a post-season berth before losing to the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the five-game opening round series. Morris Peterson is the only current Raptor that was on that squad.
Peterson says it feels good to be back.
"That's one of the goals that we set for this year, and to say we're going to the playoffs is big for us, it's big for the organization and it's big for the city, and the guys are proud of our accomplishments,'' said Peterson. "But there is still work to be done."
The Raptors played their sixth game Sunday without prized rookie Andrea Bargnani, who could be out the rest of the regular season after undergoing an appendectomy, and their third game without Jorge Garbajosa, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury last Monday at Boston.
But the Raptors have fared well when they've been shorthanded this season, and once again they moved the ball well Sunday, and simply outhustled the Bobcats, outrebounding the visitors 48-34.
"Any rotation we've put in the game, we've continued to work together, we've had that confidence," said Bosh.
Toronto shot 46 per cent on the night, and made 26 of 29 free throws. Charlotte shot 45, and connected on just 15 of 21 attempts from the free throw line.
Walter Herrmann scored 22 points to top Charlotte (28-46), while Emeka Okafor finished with 16.
Bosh led the way with 16 points in the first quarter as the Raptors raced out to an 11-point lead on 50 per cent shooting. Adam Morrison hit a jump shot from 48 feet out at the buzzer to cut Toronto's advantage to 27-19 heading into the second.
The Bobcats used a 16-8 run in the second to cut Toronto's lead to five points, and the Raptors led 53-45 at halftime.
Parker had nine points for Toronto in the third as the Raptors maintained a decent lead over Charlotte, up by as much as 12 points several times in the frame. Toronto took an 80-71 advantage into the fourth.
Notes: The Raptors head out on a three-game road trip beginning Tuesday at Miami. They'll play at Orlando and Philadelphia before returning home to host Chicago next Sunday. ... Luke Jackson, signed by the Raptors on a 10-day contract, saw his first action Sunday, subbing in with about two minutes left.