It took them 21 seasons to do it, but the Toronto Raptors have finally exorcised their playoff demons.
The Raptors will play in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history after a dominating 116-89 win over the Miami Heat in Game 7 of their second round series Sunday evening in Toronto.
That they managed to do it at the expense of the Heat, a team that recently won four straight Eastern Conference titles, was an irony not lost on the team after the series clinching victory.
“They [the Heat] are a great organization and they have won a lot of playoff games over the years,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “This win was very important to us as a franchise, and for it to come against a winning franchise such as the Heat was very special.
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“Personally, I’m not a sentimental person. For this program, from where we started to where we are now, it’s very important. I think we’ve done everything that we set out to do. We’re not done yet.”
Toronto All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 63 points, with Lowry scoring 35 points while DeRozan added 28. Bismack Biyombo had 16 rebounds to go with his 17 points, DeMarre Carroll chipped in with 14 points, and Patrick Patterson had 11 points and 11 boards to spark the Toronto attack.
Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic scored 16 points apiece for Miami.
It was a bitterly contested series that saw three overtime games, and a slew of injuries to both teams. But the series finale was all Toronto, as the Raptors opened up a 17-point lead in the third quarter and were never really threatened late after leading just 53-47 at the half.
It was a watershed moment for the Raptors, who had never won a best-of-7 playoff series in their history before beating the Indiana Pacers in the opening round to advance to play Miami. Their lone playoff series win in 2001 was a first-round series win over the New York Knicks, but that was a best-of-5.
The Heat’s playoff success in recent years is well documented, so Raptors players were quick to acknowledge that beating the Heat to finally advance past the second round made the accomplishment that much more special.
“They have had a lot of success there,” Lowry said. “They know what it takes to win, so beating them was a big thing for us.
“Hard work, dedication, sticking to the process and just having fun with it — that’s what we did in this series and that was enough to beat a great team.”
Wade, who has been a part of all of Miami’s great moments in the postseason, gave full credit to the Raptors.
“Today, the better team won.” Wade said. “We use no excuses, just like I believe they would have made no excuses. Today, they were the better team.”
A chant of “We want Cleveland!” broke out in crowd at the Air Canada Centre in the dying seconds, but the Raptors were more interested in celebrating the moment than they were in worrying about the Cavaliers.
Cleveland hosts Toronto in Game 1 on Tuesday after a nine-day break, while the Raptors have played eight games in 15 days.
The Raptors had made the second round just one other time, in 2001, when they were a missed Vince Carter jumper from making the conference finals in a loss to Philadelphia. Toronto was one of just four active NBA teams — the others are Charlotte, New Orleans and Los Angeles Clippers — to never play in the conference finals.