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Raptors HQ Roundtable: Highlighting the best moments from an historic season

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The Raptors begin their playoff run on Saturday against the Wizards but before that, we look back at the top highlights from the season.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-18 season will be a season many Raptors fans will never forget. So many great things were accomplished this year that should be credited to president Masai Ujiri keeping the team’s core together, the players’ growth, and of course, the “culture reset.” Factored all together and this year’s Raptors were the best team in franchise history.

Being the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, winning 34 games at home and 25 on the road, winning a total of 59 games — folks, all these were a first for Toronto. Then there are the other outstanding moments such as taking home the Atlantic Division title, ranking top-3 in offense and top-5 in defense in the league, Dwane Casey coaching the East All-Stars, and to top it all of, the Bench Mob.

It certainly was a season to remember so Gabe Nisker, Mitch Orsatti, and Thomas Mooney joined me in coming up with a list of our top three highlights and moments from this season. Let’s get this countdown going:

Sully’s, Gabe’s, and Mitch’s No. 1 Highlight - DeRozan’s Masterful Dunk

Sully - DeMar DeRozan Destroys Anthony Tolliver

DeRozan’s dunk on Tolliver is something I will never forget. What makes it unforgettable is the situation. The Raptors were down 112-111 following a three-point play by Blake Griffin with 10.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter. It all started with Lowry’s screen in the backcourt to free up DeRozan and that essentially made this all work out. When DeRozan drove into the lane, there was no one inside to contest except Tolliver’s desperate attempt to jump in at the last second to block the dunk just to get jammed on was the cherry on top on a masterful play.

To add, who could ever forget this iconic photo:

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Gabe - DeMar Detonates on Detroit

Good play-by-play is my weakness. I don’t want it so much as I specifically crave it. And ESPN’s Mark Jones delivered on the highlight dunk of the season. “DeMar DeRozan, six to go, got all the way to the bucket,” Jones is excited and you can hear it. The rest, my friends, is history.

DeMar. Dominant. Dynamite. Detonates on Detroit.

Mitch - Continued Dominance of Detroit

The undisputed top play of the Raptors season was DeMar’s complete and utter destruction of Anthony Tolliver on a last second, and-1 dunk to tie the game and send it to overtime. Lowry’s backcourt screen coupled with DeMar’s will to fight through contact and yam it home on Tolliver was incredible; however, Lowry’s celebration may have topped it all.

Bonus: Jak continuing the trend of Andre Drummond being savagely humiliated by any Raptor was priceless

Thomas’s No. 1 Highlight - Fred VanVleet’s buzzer-beater in Detroit

This kind of play is what the culture reset was all about. Last year’s version of DeMar might have chucked up that shot in the crowd. But his improved playmaking and the trust of teammates led to this play. Topping it off with steady Freddy cashing the clutch three with no emotion. Absolutely cold-blooded.

Sully’s and Thomas’s No. 2 Highlight - JV’s Dunk for the Ages

Sully - Jonas Valanciunas Puts the Son in John Henson

If you weren’t in on #JVHive then I’m sure JV’s buzzer-beater poster on John Henson to send the game to overtime against the Milwaukee Bucks made you be all for it. What makes this dunk all the more impressive is that the play wasn’t drawn up for Valanciunas, but with no one in the paint and 3.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter, JV drove in and slammed on Henson. This should have been a three-point play as JV clearly got fouled, and with him shooting 80 percent from the line this season, I’m sure JV would have sunk the potential free-throw to win the game. The Raptors eventually lost and could have had a 19-game winning streak had they won. They were on an eight-game win streak before the loss and won another 11 in a row after the loss.

Thomas - JV’s Poster Dunk at the Buzzer

It’s the absurdity of this play that does it for me. Nobody expected Jonas to fake the handoff on that play, but for him to drive past John Henson for the buzzer-beating poster was insane. Should’ve gotten the and-1 too.

Gabe’s No. 2 Highlight - Poeltl Power

Once upon a time, the Raptors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers by a lot of points. And in that game, there was a tremendous run in the second quarter from the bench. And in that tremendous run in the second quarter from the bench, there was this sequence of three Jakob Poeltl blocks. And in this sequence, Poeltl’s block of Jae Crowder leading to a Norman Powell lay-in at the other end is an image I can picture without having to reference the video I attached for your reference. Whether or not I can still picture it, I’ll watch this sequence time and time again.

Mitch’s No. 2 Highlight - Lowry’s Buzzer-Beater Heave

This play finalized that the NBA will always surprise me until the day I die. I have never in my life seen a professional basketball player shoot a ball the way Kyle shot this three-point heave at the buzzer, nor am I sure that I ever want to see a professional basketball player ever shoot a ball this way ever again. Well, unless it’s Kyle and it’s for three and it’s against Goran Dragic.

Sully’s No. 3 Highlight - The Rise of Fred VanVleet

Freddy’s growth this season has been truly remarkable. From going undrafted, to being the third-string point guard last year and now the backup guard to Lowry, his journey and perseverance is something special. He has upped his production in every statistical category and he is only getting better. I would have never thought VanVleet would improve his game so drastically in just one year. The one game that sticks out to me is the game against the Los Angeles Lakers. He went off for 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting, recorded four assists in only 20 minutes of action, leading the Raptors to a 123-11 victory. You can bet that he is only going to get better. #BetOnYourself

Gabe and Thomas’s No. 3 Highlight - DeRozan drops 52

Gabe - A Historic New Year’s Day

Did you know that DeMar DeRozan became the first player in NBA history to score at least 50 points on New Year’s Day? You might have but I didn’t until I looked this game up so I could find a good highlight video. The entirety of DeRozan’s performance against the Bucks was another awesome highlight of the Raps’ season. Calmly sinking a free-throw for his 52nd point of the game, DeRozan wrote his name in the Raptors records, ahead of Vince Carter and ahead of Scary Terry Ross.

Thomas - DeRozan sets Raptors Record for Most Points in a Game

This was the ultimate statement game of DeMar DeRozan’s career as a Raptor as he did it all. 21 points in the first quarter, to go with eight assists and five three-pointers, leading the way to a franchise record 52 points on 17-for-29 shooting. If anyone was going to break Vince Carter’s record, I’m glad it was DeMar.

Mitch’s No. 3 Highlight - How Wrong ESPN Was

There isn’t a whole lot more in the NBA universe that I appreciate than ESPN being so wrong about the Raptors over and over and over again. First, it was the snub of Khris Middleton being ranked ahead of DeMar and then, because they apparently never learn, they ranked Jae Crowder ahead of him! While Crowder is a better player than his time in LeBron’s funhouse suggests, there isn’t a single scenario where he is a better player than DeMar DeRozan.

Screenshot from ESPN.com

For a little cherry-on-top, chew on these pre-season rankings from ESPN. The loss of Patrick Patterson! That was the sole reason ESPN gave for the Raps dropping to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings.

Screenshot from ESPN.com

There you have it! These were the top highlights from our panel.

Onto the playoffs we go. Whatever happens there shouldn’t take anything away from what was accomplished this year by the Raptors.