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Tip-In: A Taste of the Playoffs

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If you’re not ready for the playoffs after that game, you are either hanging with Rip Van Vinkle, or a hard-core Leafs fan.

Morris Peterson, yes, he of one minute of playing time through four quarters, hit a 31 foot shot with less than a second remaining to send the Raptors to overtime where they eventually triumphed, 123-118 last night over the Washington Wizards.

The win not only gave Toronto sole possession of third place in the East (a full game lead over Miami and a game and a half over Washington) but also their 40th victory of the season.

So where do you even start to talk about this win?

Chris Bosh’s 37 points, (including eight in the over-time session) 14 rebounds, five assists and huge block to seal the deal?

Anthony Parker’s near triple-double of 13 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists?

Juan Dixon’s 17 points off the bench including the three-point shot that kept Toronto alive in regulation allowing Peterson’s Hail-Mary 3?

TJ Ford’s leadership while pitching in 23 points, six assists and five rebounds before fouling out?

Joey Graham’s best game of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds in a starting role?

Kris Humphries’ solid all around contributions off the bench for the second straight game?

Am I missing anyone?

Oh yes, Rasho Nesterovic and Jose Calderon, both of whom were instrumental in this win, Calderon in particular who racked up eight assists and lead the club in over-time after Ford had picked up his sixth infraction.

And of course Morris Peterson.

I’ve now seen the replays of the shot about 15 times on about four different sports’ networks and I’m still fixated by it. Sam Mitchell said it best, someone else could have come into the game in that situation and simply given up on the play once Michael Ruffin tossed the ball into the air and it appeared that time would run out. Yet Peterson lunged for it and gave it one final desperation heave. If you only turned into the game right before that shot, you would undoubtedly have thought Peterson had played almost the entire contest.

And what about Ruffin? Known as a grinder and hard-nosed rebounder who makes good decisions in these type of moments (he actually was almost on the way to Med School before he decided to join on with the Wizards...not that being a Doctor necessarily makes one a smart basketball player...but I digress) Ruffin tossed the ball into the air as if he assumed time would run out. You can tell by the celebratory exclamation he gives if you look at the replays and I just don’t understand why Ruffin didn’t simply hold onto the ball??!! He’s a terrible free throw shooter but at worst it would have given him two attempts and Toronto would have had less than a second to get a shot off from halfcourt.

As well, the fact that it was Peterson that hit this shot makes it that much more extraordinary. Of anyone on the Raptors who would hit a shot like this, it would be Peterson, who made so many of these circus baskets last year that we dubbed the shots "Mo Pete Gone Wild." Yet he saw about as much court-time leading up to the shot as Luke Jackson did and as a reporter mentioned after the match’s conclusion, "you can’t come into a game much colder than that!"

And finally, even more interesting is that Peterson almost went from hero at the end of regulation, to goat at the end of overtime when he failed to contain the rebound off a Gilbert Arenas miss allowing the Wizards another attempt to tie the game. That attempt was of course swatted away by Chris Bosh to put things to rest at last but in any event, it was just another piece of last night’s cardiac arrest of a match.

For the game, Toronto held Washington to only 39.8 per cent from the field and out-rebounded the Wizards 55 to 52. Washington shot 45 free-throws which kept them in this match but you’ve gotta tip your hat to the Raps’ for their emphasis on the glass and on D, particularly since losing Jorge Garbajosa and Andrea Bargnani.

I’ve also got to give a huge hat tip to Sam Mitchell, who’s work last night sealed things for me in terms of whether or not he should be the coach of this club going forward. Mitchell and crew did an outstanding job of extending this game and keeping Toronto in it even as Agent Zero was raining down form long-range. He drew up great plays out of time-outs and used his line-up to exploit match-ups all night long even though it meant sitting Morris Peterson for almost the game’s entirety.

The final thing I’d like to touch on from this game is the general feeling I got from the win. As comical as it was to see Kris Humphries celebrating with coach Mitchell after Peterson’s game-tying shot, that comraderie throughout the game from Darrick Martin to Luke Jackson (who after Mo’s shot looked like he was a kid taking his first trip into Toys ‘R Us with $1000 to spend) speaks volumes about this club’s chemistry and the job Bryan Colangelo has done in assembling it.

An earlier poll we conducted this season had 43 per cent of respondents thinking Toronto would win between 30 and 35 games and that was the most popular choice. Only 17 per cent felt that the Raptors would win between 40 and 45. In February, we re-surveyed our readership and there was of course a shift in results with the most popular choice being between 41 and 44 wins (46 per cent) however 33 per cent also felt that the Raptors would exceed the 45 win plateau and get upwards of 50 wins.

Of course to hit 50 the Raptors would have to win all 10 of their remaining games, something that’s unlikely considering they still have two games with Detroit and a rematch with Miami.

But right now 50 wins hardly matters to me.

Hitting that magic 40 victory mark has put the rest of the league on notice and if you saw any of the US sports feeds from last night, notice they did. The combination of Peterson’ ridiculous shot and Toronto beating Miami and now Washington to climb within three games of Cleveland for second overall in the East had the Raptors plastered all over ESPN and had commentator Tim Legler stating that the Raptors were "the most dangerous team in the East after Detroit and a healthy Miami."

Most dangerous team in the East?

Are we talking about the same club, the one a year removed from 27 wins and a trip to the lottery? And do we have to play Charlotte on Sunday and the remaining 10 games on the schedule?

Can’t we just skip to the playoffs?

Because if this is a taste of playoff basketball, I’ve got my place setting ready for extra portions...

FRANCHISE