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Raptors tap into new playoff dimension with first-round win over Magic

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TORONTO – Welcome to the next dimension.

The Toronto Raptors didn’t win their first-round series over the Orlando Magic Tuesday night so much as they launched themselves through some kind of portal in the NBA space-time continuum, shedding their past and rocketing towards a (near) future as bright as the sun.

Even the gravity of Drake courtside couldn’t hold them back. The Raptors seem determined to launch themselves further.

As Raptors head coach Nick Nurse was determined to point out before the ball went up in Game 5, struggles in close-out games may be part of franchise history and of every Raptors fans’ scar tissue, but they have nothing to do with this team, not now.

This was a team that had turned itself inside out to inject DNA from the San Antonio Spurs into its brain stem. This was a team that refashioned itself again at mid-season to add Marc Gasol – a winner internationally, a veteran of years of Western Conference playoff wars and acknowledged as one of the smartest, most competitive players in the NBA.

This was a team that didn’t have dreams, but goals. Not only vision but plans.

But Step 1 was getting out of the first round efficiently and unscathed. Their 115-96 win over the Magic did the trick.

The Raptors’ competition to be the first non-LeBron James team to advance to the NBA Finals from the East in eight seasons was out there taking care of their business. The Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks had already swept. In Philadelphia, the 76ers — the Raptors’ second-round opponent — were up 3-1 on the Brooklyn Nets.

Giving the Magic even a hint of hope by dropping Game 5 at home would not only mean introducing all the stress and uncertainty of a Game 6 in Orlando, but it would cost the Raptors time to rest and prepare for the second round.

Good teams don’t do that, and the Raptors look every inch like one of those.

The exam wasn’t coming down for several days, but were the Raptors going to goof around and have to cram, or were they going work ahead?

In Game 5, the adults in the room were heard. Kyle Lowry, the only Raptor who carries the full weight of the team’s past five years of playoff history on his shoulders, spoke loudest.

There would be no fiddling with phones on his watch; no one late to work.

Tellingly, Lowry came out with his most aggressive scoring binge of the series in the opening quarter. The game was virtually won then. The........

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