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NBA ICYMI: The Raptors Can Win Ugly, Too

Plus, the Pistons can officially start making vacation plans, the Magic and Mavs fire up the random-name generator, and everything else you may have missed from Wednesday night’s action

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

All the need-to-know info from Wednesday’s slate.

The Takeaway: Attention, We’re Not in March Anymore

First, a disclaimer: Both the Raptors and the Celtics were playing on the ends of back-to-backs when they faced off at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night. Now, a reality: This game felt like a college basketball rock fight in which both teams looked actively disinterested in scoring. The two teams combined for 34 points in the first quarter, and the Raptors’ 14 points were the fewest they’d scored in a first quarter all season. The Celtics responded by scoring just 13 in the second quarter. It was that kind of night.

Of course, it was Toronto’s bench that would once again rescue the Raptors from a loss that would have put them only one game up on the Celtics for the top seed in the East. When the fourth arrived, Dwane Casey rode his roster depth to a 96-78 final. (For some context, the Rockets have scored 90 points in a half this season. This is the same sport, people.) The bench unit scored 44 total points (15 from Fred VanVleet) and was a combined plus-54, including a game-high plus-19 from the one and only cult hero Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira.

Praising the Raptors “bench mob” has become almost cliché this season, and though it is fair to wonder how it will translate when the playoffs begin, it’s impossible to ignore it as a factor. “All of those guys played like veterans, like they’d been doing it in the league for eight or nine years,” DeMar DeRozan said postgame.

Strangely enough, this was a win Toronto needed, especially after going 2-5 against above .500 teams since beating the Rockets almost a month ago, and especially when losing at home to a heavily-injured Celtics team that couldn’t hit anything (Boston will go as far Kyrie Irving’s health allows) would have downgraded the Raptors’ contender approval rating to worrisome levels. Instead, they didn’t need more than 29 combined points from DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to win by 18.

The Cheat Sheet

  • The L.A. nightlife effect even extends to the Spurs. It took overtime, a 30-point performance from Kyle Kuzma, and a 19-point night off the bench for former Cav Channing Frye for the Lakers to stave off the Spurs at Staples Center, 122-112. For the Lakers, they can hang their hat on a strong finish to this season; they’ve swept the Spurs and are still battling against superior foes without Lonzo and Brandon Ingram. San Antonio, meanwhile, can’t separate from the middling West and is now just 1.5 games ahead of the Nuggets, who are ninth. Look at this mess:

Three games separate the 4-seed from the 10-seed. It’s going to be a photo finish.

  • The Pistons are officially eliminated. But before we get to that, Markelle Fultz took a 3. He really did do it.

Yes, it missed, but imagine having the luxury of even saying he missed an in-game shot a few weeks ago. As the Sixers, now winners of 12 in a row, and their fans will gladly tell you: Cherish the failures. Now, onto the Pistons. Oh, the Pistons. Wednesday’s death knell was only procedural. Detroit had been out of the running for more than a week now, giving it time to stew on the fact the trade it made for Blake Griffin didn’t pay off, and that it’s still the only team in the entire Eastern Conference that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008. This offseason should be interesting.

  • NOLA takes care of Memphis, 123-95. For only the 13th game this season, Anthony Davis was able to play less than 32 minutes. Think about that. Now, think about the fact Davis still had 28 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks in that time. He’s the only reason the Pelicans are still here, hanging on by a one-game thread above the Nuggets for the 8-seed with just four games left. Count your blessings, count your brows.
  • Miami’s bench paces it to sole possession of the 6-seed. A game after barely edging out the tanking Hawks in crunch time, the Heat took care of their business on Wednesday by squashing Atlanta, 115-86, thanks to a bench that ran eight deep and scored 69 of the team’s total points.

Miami controls its own destiny for the 6-seed with tiebreakers over both the Wizards and the Bucks.

  • The Mavericks and Magic embrace the tank a little too hard. Here are some names: Kyle Collinsworth. Jalen Jones. Jamel Artis. Khem Birch. The question: Real NBA players or randomly generated names? The answer: All of them are very real, and all of them played at least 25 minutes in the Magic’s 105-100 win over the Mavs on Wednesday.

Aaron Gordon played only 26 minutes, while Nikola Vucevic didn’t play at all for Orlando—which holds the fifth-best lottery odds at the moment—and it didn’t matter. The Magic were unable to out-tank the Mavs, who gave 41 minutes to Johnathan Motley and 42 minutes to Aaron Harrison and now have the fourth-best odds. [Cut to Mark Cuban singing “This is how we do it.”]

Play of the Night: Brow Buster

If Davis keeps doing this, he can pull a brow-shaving April Fools’ prank on us every day of the year as far as I’m concerned.