The Raptors managed to shoot down the New York Knicks last night and, by doing so, can lay down their big guns for a while.
A 107-105 victory over the Knicks, the result of a strong fourth quarter by the home side, secured third place in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs for the first time in team history.
Almost as important, head coach Sam Mitchell now has the luxury of resting his top players -- Chris Bosh, T.J. Ford and Anthony Parker -- in the final two regular-season games, tomorrow in Detroit and back home on Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers. Mitchell won't nail the trio to the bench entirely, but he will limit their minutes.
"Obviously, we're going to cut guys' minutes, but I don't think we're in a situation where we don't put a uniform on guys," said Mitchell, who punched his fist in triumph after Joey Graham put Toronto up by four with two seconds left.
"It's huge," Parker said of home-court advantage. "We set a goal at the beginning of the season to not only make the playoffs, but go deep in the playoffs. We've made the playoffs and now we have an opportunity to go deep."
The Raptors, who tied a franchise record with their 47th win, will face either the Washington Wizards or New Jersey Devils in the first round, depending on which team finishes sixth. The Wizards currently sit one game ahead of the Nets with two games remaining for both. If they end up tied, New Jersey finishes ahead based on head-to-head matchups.
The Raptors would rather face the Wizards, who are without stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler and figure to be easy pickings in the first round of the playoffs.
The Nets, on the other hand, are considered by many to be the most dangerous team going into the playoffs, next to the Detroit Pistons, if their three stars, Vince Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson decide to turn it on.
The Raptors trailed for most of the game last night and by as much as 12. Just when it appeared as they had everything under control late in the fourth, they almost threw it away in the final couple of minutes, starting when Kris Humphries tossed the ball away with 1:27 left and centre Eddy Curry scored on a dunk to cut the Toronto lead to three.
On the next Toronto possession, Chris Bosh was slapped with an offensive foul and Malik Rose made both frees with 1:06 left to bring the Knicks to within one.
They remained close until Graham, who was ill before the game and almost didn't dress, picked up an in-bound pass from Calderon, charged to the hoop, put in the layup, was fouled, and converted the free for and that was it.
Bosh finished with 23 points, nine in the final quarter, eight rebounds and seven assists, just missing his 11th straight double-double. Parker scored 19 for Toronto along with seven rebounds, while Calderon added 18 and six assists and Kris Humphries 12 points off the bench.
B+ Offence: The Raptors shot 52% from the field, but a dismal 3-for-14 from three-point range. They also shared the ball well, picking up 25 assists.
C Defence: Out-rebounded 38-26 and were not aggressive under the basket, scoring only four second-chance points. But they recorded 10 steals and forced New York into 20 turnovers.