TORONTO – Last season, the Raptors had to overcome obstacles that no other team had in their way, hindrances so great that Nick Nurse compared them to “cement walls.”
Access to the playoffs this year, confirmed by Tuesday’s win, therefore seems like a fair reward, after a 2020-21 season that “seriously damaged the morale” of everyone on the team, said Fred VanVleet. .
“It means a lot,” VanVleet said after Tuesday’s win over the Hawks. You have to appreciate it. We had become a little spoiled, a little used to winning and the level of excellence required in the NBA. »
“It was taken from us last year. Being at home in April, watching the start of the playoffs believing that we were capable of being there, it hurt a little. »
Scotiabank Arena hasn’t hosted a playoff game since Game 5 of the 2019 Finals, against Golden State. The Raptors lost by one point but triumphed the next game in California.
We may have to wait until Sunday to find out who will be Toronto’s first-round opponents.
Last season, the Raptors were exiled to Tampa due to border regulations and health measures in Ontario.
No other NBA club was based anywhere other than in its market.
The Raptors set up a practice facility in a Marriott ballroom.
“It was so much in isolation mode. Even how we sat on the bench, VanVleet said. We couldn’t touch anyone, we were even hesitant to encourage each other by banging our fists. It was weird. »
“It was strange in every aspect. This season, things seem to us to be a little more normal. »
Last season, the Raptors could be a playoff contender until an outbreak of COVID-19 sidelined more than half of the coaching staff in March. The club went 1-14 that month, finishing 12th in the East. Toronto hadn’t missed the playoffs since 2013.
Star point guard Kyle Lowry left for Miami during the offseason, and few observers were anticipating good results for this new edition of the team.
“We have our place in the playoffs and we believe we deserve it,” said VanVleet. Now is the time to see how far we can go. »
One of the positive aspects of last season’s lackluster record was the chance to draft Scottie Barnes, who is up for the NBA rookie of the year.
Fifth in the East, the Raptors (46-33) have won six of their last seven games.
“We’ve built an identity that is (first and foremost) about playing hard,” Nurse said. We’ve had enough wins to get to this point (a playoff berth). »
The Raptors’ first playoff rivals should be the Celtics, Bucks or 76ers – the latter play in Toronto on Thursday, by the way.
The Raptors will also host Houston on Friday before concluding the regular season Sunday night in New York against the Knicks.