Raptors 94, 76ers 85
PHILADELPHIA (AP)—The Toronto Raptors are taking the Atlantic Division title north of the border.
“It’s a start,” coach Sam Mitchell said. “You come to all of these arenas and they have division championship banners up in the rafters. If you are trying to start a culture of winning, these guys need to start seeing the fruits of their labor and those things are important.”
The Raptors, who already clinched their first postseason berth since 2002, won the Atlantic when Chicago beat New Jersey 105-74 later Friday night. It marked the first time a Canadian-based team won a division title.
Toronto also kept its slim lead over Miami for third place in the Eastern Conference, which would set the Raptors up nicely for a first-round matchup against injury-ravaged Washington.
The Raptors began the season with 2-8 start that gave little hint the playoffs were a possibility. Toronto’s 43 wins this season are a 16-win improvement for last season’s total of 27, the biggest turnaround in the NBA this season.
“I think it means a lot, especially with the quick turnaround that we’ve had this year,” Bosh said. “It’s a great thing. This team overcame a lot of adversity early. Now we have to look ahead to clinching that third spot.”
Anthony Parker, Juan Dixon and T.J. Ford each added 12 points for the Raptors. Toronto had not won a title in its first 11 seasons, coming in with a .392 career winning percentage and three winning records.
“Nobody believed we’d be able to win our division,” Ford said. “Now we’re setting standards of how Toronto basketball will be like.”
The Raptors took control for good with a 15-0 run to close the third quarter that saw all the starters do a little bit of something to contribute, taking some off the load off Bosh.
Bosh has been sensational all season, but especially of late while the Raptors make their postseason push. He averaged 25.2 points and 13.8 rebounds in his last five games, all without Andrea Bargnani (appendectomy) and Jorge Garbajosa (ankle) to help him in the frontcourt.
“I know I have to pick up my play,” Bosh said. “It’s near playoff time. I have to step up my role, make sure I’m rebounding, make sure I’m taking good shots and doing my role as the leader on this team.”
The Raptors made 10 straight baskets late in the third quarter to build a 73-61 lead. Parker hit a 3 tied that the game at 61 and Bosh, who was sharp from the perimeter all game, put the Raptors ahead for good for a jumper from the top of the key.
Parker swished a 3 from the left side to cap the run.
“I couldn’t stop it,” Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said.
Iguodala made a free throw to open the fourth quarter and end the Sixers’ scoreless drought. But the Raptors kept rolling and stretched the lead to 87-71 on a Dixon jumper with 6:29 left. That was Toronto’s last field goal of the game, allowing the Sixers to pull to 88-81 on Kyle Korver’s 3.
Bosh made four free throws in the final 2 minutes to seal the win and make them find the nearest TV to see if they’d win the division.
“You have to have your defense pick you up,” Korver said. “That was the hole we put ourselves in and we didn’t have enough to dig ourselves out.”
The Raptors had no fastbreak points and no second-chance baskets. … Ford left briefly in the third quarter with a split lip. … The Raptors are only 16-23 on the road.