TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors have recorded their best regular-season record in the team’s 19-year history.
The playoff-bound Raptors topped their record for franchise wins with victory No. 48 on Monday, a 110-100 defeat of the lowly Milwaukee Bucks — their most recent milestone achieved on a night that started with the unfurling of their Atlantic Division banner.
Greivis Vasquez scored 25 points, while Kyle Lowry added 24 for the Raptors (48-33). Jonas Valanciunas had 14 points and 13 rebounds, Tyler Hansbrough scored 12 points and grabbed 11 boards, while Amir Johnson finished with 10 points.
Ramon Sessions scored 21 points to top the Bucks (15-66) in their 14th straight loss on the road. Jeff Adrien added 19 points.
Vasquez started in place of all-star DeMar DeRozan, who was given the night off to rest up for the playoffs.
The Raptors led from the outset, and were up by as much as 22 points in the second quarter of their final regular-season game at Air Canada Centre. They took an 84-69 advantage into the fourth against a Bucks team that is guaranteed to finish with the worst record in the NBA this season.
But the Bucks showed some fight in the fourth, pulling to within seven points on an alley-oop dunk by Adrien with 7:27 to play.
That was as close as the Bucks would come as Lowry’s six points were part of a 12-5 Raptors run that put them ahead by 14 with three minutes to play.
The Raptors wrap up the regular season Wednesday at New York, and will open the playoffs at home either Saturday or Sunday.
Toronto had won 47 games twice before — in 2000-’01 and 2006-’07.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround in a season that saw the Raptors stumble out to a 6-12 start.
The about-face came after the blockbuster seven-player trade in December that sent Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for Vasquez, John Salmons and Patrick Patterson.
The Raptors went into Monday tied with Chicago for the third seed in the Eastern Conference, so a Toronto victory coupled by a Bulls loss to Orlando would have clinched them that third spot. The seeding will come down to the final game now, after Chicago topped Orlando 108-95. Chicago wraps up its season Wednesday versus Charlotte.
The Raptors will play either Washington, Brooklyn or Charlotte in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Raptors opened the festive night by unfurling their second Atlantic Division banner — clinched last Friday — from the rafters of the ACC. DeRozan addressed the crowd, saying “We want to thank you guys for the support throughout the whole season, and we want you guys to help us unfurl the banner as division champs.”
DeRozan counted down “3-2-1,” as the banner dropped to fireworks and cheers from the crowd.
Toronto had only won the division title once before — in 2006-07, which was also the last time they made the playoffs, losing in the first round to New Jersey.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey feared the banner celebration might work in the Bucks’ favour.
“I think it’s great for the fans,” Casey said. “(But) if you have anything in your trunks, you’re probably going to get upset and come out swinging if you see the other team hanging a banner on you.”
Casey needn’t have worried. The Raptors sprinted out of the gate, assembling an 11-point lead with three minutes to go in the first quarter on a three by Vasquez. They led 32-19 heading into the second.
The Raptors continued to pull away in the second, a Nando De Colo three-pointer giving the home team a 22-point lead about seven minutes before halftime. But the Bucks closed the quarter with a 15-6 run and Toronto led 59-46 at the break.
The Raptors went back up by 20 late in the third quarter on a three by Lowry, and led 84-69 with a quarter left to play.
The Raptors will host a “Party in the Square” in Maple Leaf Square for playoff games like the Toronto Maple Leafs did for their playoff series last season against Boston.