Now boarding at Platform 1: The Toronto Raptors Bandwagon. Please form a line to the right, and have your tickets ready. Prepare for a bumpy ride, this trip is standing room only.
For the first time in five years, the Toronto Raptors are going to the NBA playoffs. And if making the playoffs wasn’t enough for Chris Bosh, on Monday he was also named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Despite the loss of our beloved Jorge Garbajosa to a terrible ankle injury and Rookie-of-the-Year contender Andrea Bargnani to an emergency appendectomy, the Raps are playing some of their best basketball of the season. Over the last couple of weeks, they’ve suddenly transformed from one of the worst rebounding teams in the league to one of the best. If you were to only count games played in 2007, the Raptors would have the best record in the Eastern Conference. A deep run in the playoffs is by no means a sure thing, but if the team continues to play this well, they should give anyone a decent fight.
It was Sunday’s win against the Charlotte Bobcats that finally clinched a playoff spot for the Raptors, but in many ways, it was Friday’s game in Washington that will define this season for the team. Though it was a close-fought match, the Raptors had trailed most of the fourth quarter and the game was finally slipping away for good. With nine seconds left in the game, the Wizard’s Caron Butler made two free throws to put them up 105-101. The Raptors called timeout, but only because that is what you have to do in the situation. There was really no hope. Nine seconds was just too little time to make up two possessions.
Anthony Parker received the inbounds pass and immediately found Juan Dixon in the corner for a quick three. It was an amazing play, and not a bad way to end the game, really. Go out on a high note. The score was 105-104. Six seconds left. On the next possession, Mo Pete immediately fouled Caron Butler. He made both his free throws again to put the Wiz back up by three. Five seconds left.
In order to prevent a game-tying three, Butler fouled Jose Calderon when the Raps put the ball in play. Jose made both his free throws, but the Raps were still down by one with four seconds to go and the Wiz had the ball. This was all typical NBA-style end-of-game theatrics: a free throw shooting contest that drags nine seconds out over multiple commercial breaks.
Anthony Parker fouled Gilbert Arenas with 3.8 seconds left. He made both his free throws to seal the win, finally, for the Wiz. The score was 109-106. Since they had no timeouts left, the Raptors had to inbound the ball immediately from under their own basket. Anthony Parker tried a desperate Hail Mary pass to Chris Bosh, but the pass was intercepted by the Wizards’ Michael Ruffin. Ruffin is a terrible free throw shooter, so in order to keep from being fouled, he tossed the ball high into the air to end the game.
What happened next should not be called a miracle. This was just a basketball game, after all, there’s no reason to imply Divine Intervention. No laws of physics were breached. But, for Raptors fans, it certainly felt like a miracle. The ball came down into Morris Peterson’s hands, thirty feet from the basket. Morris Peterson is the longest serving Raptor and the only member of the team left from the last time the squad made the playoffs. He is known as a hard worker, a solid defender, and has talent for making un-make-able shots. He’d been struggling recently though, and he wasn’t even on the floor until the last moments of this game. With time expiring, and a hand in his face, he heaved the ball at the basket. And the shot went down. Tie game. 109-109. The team had scored eight points in nine seconds. It might be the single most incredible moment in Raptors history.
Chris Bosh took over in the extra period and the Raptors walked away with a win on the road over the team they are battling with for the third seed in the East.
The Raptors are on the road again tonight, facing Shaquille O’Neal and the Miami Heat. Not only are the Raptors playing for homecourt advantage in the playoffs, they are trying to clinch the Atlantic Division title. The Raptors current magic number is three. Any combination of three Raptor wins or loses by Vince Carter’s hated New Jersey Nets and the Raptors will be able to do something they’ve never done before: hang a banner in the ACC.