With the win, the Raptors keep pace with the Chicago Bulls — who won last night — in the race for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Though the two teams are currently tied with identical 45-32 records, the Bulls do own the tiebreaker.
Perhaps more intriguingly though, the Raptors (and Bulls, to be fair) now find themselves just 1.5 games back of the Philadelphia 76ers, who currently sit in the fourth spot. Toronto currently owns the tie-breaker, though the two teams do play again next week.
The very idea of the Raptors reaching fourth seemed insane just a couple of weeks ago. But with the both the Sixers and Bulls looking shaky — Philly’s lost three straight, including an embarrassing L to Detroit last night; and although the Bulls have won two straight, they’d lost six of eight prior to that — the Raptors, who are finally healthy and developing some real chemistry, are rolling, now winners of 11 of their last 13.
There certainly isn’t a better time for a playoff-bound team to gel than the final two weeks of the season.
Scottie Barnes — who punctuated tonight’s win with an emphatic slam with 1:04 remaining, giving the Raptors the 13-point margin of victory — finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Pascal Siakam had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Mo Bamba led the Magic with 15 points and 10 boards.
After falling behind 42-39 with 5:30 left in the first half, the Raptors outscored the Magic 46-20 over the next 18.5 minutes.
But trailing by 22, the Magic — sporting a tied-for-league-worst 20-57 record — refused to throw in the towel. Led by Mo Wagner and Markelle Fultz, the Magic opened the fourth quarter on a 12-1 run (with Wagner and Fultz comnbining for 10 points and four assists) an eventually got the lead to as close as nine points.
But the bend-don’t-break Raptors stood fast, and held on for the win.
Fred VanVleet started cold, but finished with 19 points; he also five steals, which feels like about three too few. VanVleet also knocked in five three pointers, which leaves him three away from tying the Raptors’ single-season record for made three-pointers.
VanVleet will have a chance to break that record against the guy who currently holds it when Kyle Lowry and the Miami Heat visit Toronto on Sunday.
Despite VanVleet’s cold shooting start, Toronto’s defense was on point early, as they forced three early turnovers while jumping out to a 9-3 lead. But the Magic turned the tables, forced two turnovers of their own, and tied the game at 15.
Iggy Brazdeikis, who subbed in 20 seconds into the game when Magic rookie Franz Wagner left with an ankle injury, had three three-pointers early on to pace the Magic. But Gary Trent also started hot, picking up where left off against the Minnesota Timberwolves; he had eight points, including two three-pointers, in the first eight minutes.
We were also treated to a nifty behind-the-back fast-break pass from Siakam to Barnes in the first:
Two more Magic turnovers in the final two minutes allowed the Raptors to finish the quarter in from 29-23.
The Raptors started big in the second quarter for the second straight game; once again it didn’t delver great results.
The giant Raptors. OG Anunoby (6-7), Thad Young (6-8), Pascal Siakam (6-9), Precious Achiuwa (6-8), Khem Birch (6-9).— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 1, 2022
Outscoring the “long lineup” 14-8, the Magic tied the score at 37, and soon took a 42-39 lead on a Chuma Okeke three-pointer.
But a Trent three in response sparked an 11-0 run, and the Raptors never trailed again.
Khem Birch struggled for the Raptors in this one, picking up three fouls in about three minutes of first-half action. Thad Young and Chris Boucher were also uncharacteristically quiet, but the starters had enough mojo to get it done.
Next up: The Raptors head back home to face the GROAT and the Miami Heat on Sunday.