TORONTO — Raptors coach Dwane Casey called it fitting that guard DeMar DeRozan and center Amir Johnson combined for the final four points in Toronto’s 105-103 victory over the Boston Celtics on Friday night.
DeRozan and Johnson have been with the Raptors since the 2009-10 season, seeing the organizational rebuild from its early stages.
With just 7.1 seconds remaining in the fourth, Johnson had his off-balance put-back lay-up drop, sealing the Toronto victory, and more importantly, clinching the Raptors first playoff berth since 2008.
The victory marked the earliest the Raptors clinched a playoff spot in in team history.
“We made it.” said Johnson, with both feet still in an ice bath postgame. “It’s satisfying. Kind of over whelming feeling, but at the same time, you know you still got a lot more to accomplish. You got to take one step at a time.”
DeRozan had a game-high 30 points, including the first 10 Raptor points of the fourth quarter.
“The hard work Casey put in every single day since he’s been here, since the lockout year — you definitely see it paying off, ” said DeRozan. “It’s definitely even sweeter to have our head coach, who we’ve been here through the struggle with, share this moment with too.”
Johnson finished with eight points in the win. Guard Terrence Ross had 17 points while guard Greivis Vasquez had 15 points off the bench as the Raptors snap a five-year playoff absence.
Toronto, which leads Brooklyn by 2.5 games for the Atlantic Division lead, can win its first division title since 2007.
“My hat is off to all the guys who have come through here, to DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson — been through it all,” said Casey. “To the fans … the fans for understanding and being patient. I know they didn’t see the pot of goal at the end of the rainbow, but again, it’s a process, you don’t build Rome overnight.
“We can’t be satisfied. We still want to continue on. We’ve got to get better, we saw tonight, how the physicality in the game… that’s the way the playoffs are going to be, a meat grinder.”
Toronto (41-31) won three straight and five of six at home over the Celtics. The win improved the Raptors to 3-1 over the Celtics this season.
With the loss, Boston (23-49) lost nine straight on the road. The Celtics are now 8-27 away from home this season with their last road victory coming Feb. 10 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Guard Jerryd Bayless led the way with 20 points off the bench for Boston. Forward Jeff Green chipped in with 16 while guards Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo along with center Jared Sullinger all finished with 11 each.
“We’ve got to play better throughout the game,” said Bayless. “There are times where play well, like you’ve seen, and there are times when we struggle. We’ve just got to have a more consistent effort from everybody.”
Boston used a 15-2 run to take their first lead, 101-95, of the quarter, erasing a Raptors lead, which was at 12 to start the fourth. However, Toronto used a late 6-0 run to keep pace and set up the Johnson winner.
“Tough the difference in the game was (DeRozan) making tough shots at the end of the day,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “Amir Johnson made great play on the tip in.”
DeRozan led the way with 12 third-quarter points as the Raptors used an early 6-0 run and then closed out on a 16-4 surge to take an 85-73 lead into the fourth.
Lowry left the game with 3:09 remaining in the second quarter favoring what appeared to be a right ankle injury
Lowry got tangled up with Bradley after missing on a 3-point attempt. Lowry was helped off by Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas and a trainer. Once on the bench he left for the dressing room on his own.
“I’m alright, I’m little sore, but I’m OK. I’m fine. Good to go,” said Lowry of his ankle.
Lowry has just two points while shooting 1-of-5 from the field in 14:51 of action.
Raptors closed the half on a 6-2 run to take a 56-53 lead into the break.
Lowry had his right ankle re-taped during halftime and returned to start the third.
Boston opened the game with up an 11-4 lead.
John Salmons replaced DeRozan, who picked up two early fouls, off the bench. Raptors opened shooting 1-for-6 from the field
Following a Toronto timeout, the Raptors go on a 6-0 run to pull to 11-10
After missing five of their first six from the field, Toronto hit eight of 10, closing the quarter on an 8-2 run to take a 32-26 lead after one quarter.
NOTES: Raptors coach Dwane Casey expects F Patrick Patterson (elbow) back this weekend. … Casey entered Friday three wins shy of 100 with the Raptors. … Toronto snapped an 11-game skid in Boston on Wednesday night. The Raptors’ previous road win against the Celtics came Jan. 23, 2008. … With the victory in Boston, Toronto reached 40 wins in a season for the first time since 2009-10. … Celtics F Jeff Green was battling a stiff neck but felt better at Friday morning’s shootaround and was in Boston’s starting lineup. … Boston G Rajon Rondo received nine stitches to the bridge of his nose after a collision with Raptors G Greivis Vasquez on Wednesday night.
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