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Sports Green and the Raptors soar past Magic to clinch Atlantic Division title

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives between Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) and centre Khem Birch (24) during first half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Monday, April 1, 2019.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Danny Green had his best performance yet as a Toronto Raptor, leading his team to a 121-109 victory over an Orlando Magic team still charging hard for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Green led the Raptors with a season-high 29 points, including seven three-pointers, despite suffering a thumb injury during the game.

Five other Raptors scored in double digits, including Kawhi Leonard (15), Kyle Lowry (12), Marc Gasol (13), Serge Ibaka (15) and Fred VanVleet (10). It was a fourth successive victory for the Raps, who improve to 55-23 with four games left before the playoffs begin.

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In the locker room afterward, players’ chairs were draped in t-shirts that read ‘Clinched: Atlantic Division Champions.'

The Magic, still battling with the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets for the final playoff spot in the East, had already handed the Raptors two losses this season. But Toronto didn’t let it happen again.

Monday night was the first of four games Toronto will play against teams fighting for the critical final playoff spots in the East. Likely locked into the No. 2 playoff seed with four games left, the Raps just wait to see how the bottom few seeds shake out in the conference.

“I don’t know if this is true for everybody – every coach in the league – but when you look at the standings from Day 1, Game 1 to Game 2, you look four times a day,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “You’re always looking to see who’s going where, how it’s shifting, who’s going to end up where, and I don’t know, maybe it’s just something to do. Not much you can do about it.”

Green hit four three-pointers in the opening nine minutes alone, on his way to a 16-point first quarter. He was on his way to a career-high night. It was just shy of the eight three-pointers he had against Memphis earlier this year, and the career-high 33 he scored back on April 11, 2014, against Phoenix while he was a member of the San Antonio Spurs.

Still, the Raptors trailed by as much as 11 points for much of the first half, before finally pulling ahead with just two minutes remaining. They did so by improving at everything from fighting through screens to contesting shots and suffocating the Magic defensively.

By outscoring the Magic 33-16 in the second quarter, Toronto took a 62-52 lead into the locker room.

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“We’d been playing some teams that hadn’t been playing with a lot of intensity and hadn’t been guarding us very well or very hard,” said Nurse. “And this team did. I think it was just such a big adjustment to make, just in general to get the juices back up to par there a little bit.”

Green was the best player on the floor all night – hitting everything from driving floaters to jumpers and bank shots, making good on 11 of his 15 shots, 7-of-10 from deep. He had three blocked shots and a pair of steals, while also nabbing five rebounds.

Green sustained a jammed left thumb in the first quarter and kept playing. X-rays done on site were negative. He went for an MRI after the game and wasn’t available to speak to reporters.

Before the game, the Raptors razzed young teammate Chris Boucher while media surrounded his locker to talk to him about a significant honour he’d just earned. Even Kawhi Leonard called out “big time” as he passed by.

Earlier Monday, Toronto’s Chris Boucher was chosen the NBA G-League most valuable player and the defensive player of the year for the 28 games he played with the Raptors 905. The Saint Lucian-born Boucher, who was raised in Montreal, became the first player to win both awards in the same season, and the first international player to earn MVP honours.

The 6-foot-11 forward – who signed a two-way contract with the Raptors in October before having it converted to a standard NBA contract in February – averaged 27.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.1 blocked shots.

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The team honoured him with his two trophies before the game. He said he hopes to be part of a growing list of Raptors who have flourished in the NBA after developing in Mississauga with Raptors 905.

“For sure, Pascal [Siakam] is a great example for me, just because look what he did and what he’s doing now,” Boucher said. “Not only Pascal, but Fred [VanVleet], Norm [Powell], Delon [Wright], just what those guys have been achieving, what they did last year, and what they did when they were in the G League. For me it’s just a good thing, just learn from them, try to take them as an example and do my own stuff too.”

Rising 18-year-old Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu was courtside Monday night during a trip home to Toronto. The Raptors honoured the WTA player for her recent title run at Indian Wells.

The Raptors face Brooklyn, Charlotte and Miami this week, and conclude the regular season next Tuesday in Minnesota.

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