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Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam drives to the basket as Atlanta Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanovic defends during the first half.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The Toronto Raptors are officially headed back to the NBA playoffs.

By beating the hot-rolling Atlanta Hawks 118-108 on Tuesday – their 46th win of the season -- the Raptors have clinched a post-season berth. They’ve done it with a roster many underestimated this year.

The first-round pairings will firm up soon as the regular season concludes this weekend. The Raps will get to play their first home playoff games in Toronto since the 2019 championship season.

It marks quite a turnaround from one year ago, when the Raptors finished the regular season with a 24-45 record and missed the post-season after playing all home games in Tampa due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. The 2020 NBA playoffs were played inside the Disney bubble.

Toronto’s win Tuesday -- paired with a loss by the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Orlando Magic -- guarantees that the Raptors can’t finish any lower than sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. That means the Raps avoid the play-tournament, reserved for the teams who finish 7th to 10th. The top six teams get some extra rest next week while the bottom four battle for playoff spots No. 7 and 8.

Fred VanVleet tried to articulate how good this feels. He’d felt a little spoiled, winning and having deep playoff runs in his first several years as a Raptor, until last season.

“That was taken away from us last year. So sitting at home in April, and watching the first round of playoffs, or even a play-in, when we all felt like we were capable enough to be there, that stung a little bit,” said VanVleet. “Having a group nobody really thought was gonna be any good – being here in this position is good… Now it’s time to go see what we can do.”

It was the second contest of a four-game homestand for Toronto, and Pascal Siakam’s 31-point, 13-rebound performance led the way. Scottie Barnes had 19 points, Chris Boucher added 18, Gary Trent Jr. 14. VanVleet had a rough offensive, but finished with 12 points and nine assists – and his most important bucket with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.

The mood was quieter to start out Tuesday, compared toSunday’s, when Toronto’s faithful welcomed back beloved ex-Raptor Kyle Lowry for the first time since the team traded him to the Miami Heat. That had been an emotional night, including a tribute video.

However, this was an important evening too, with much scoreboard watching around the NBA as the playoff picture got a little clearer.

The Hawks, arrived Scotiabank Arena on a five-game win streak, having scored north of 120 points in each of those wins. They were battling for a playoff spot, with the Brooklyn Nets and Charlotte Hornets, nipping at their heels. Tuesday’s loss means the Hawks will have to secure a spot via the play-in tournament.

Atlanta’s Trae Young, fresh of Eastern Conference Player of the Week honours, had a 26- point night with 15 assists in Toronto.

The Raptors were without OG Anunoby – one of their finest defenders – for a second straight game. Anunoby had suffered a thigh contusion on Friday against the Orlando Magic.

Khem Birch got to start with VanVleet, Siakam, Barnes and Trent Jr.

Several Raptors struggled to hit shots in Tuesday’s first quarter, especially VanVleet who missed all six of his field goal attempts in the opening stanza.

Still fans got to see speedy All-Stars VanVleet and Trae Young chase one another around.

Led by Young, the Hawks were sharing the ball very well. The Raps were missing 3-point shots galore.

Toronto entered the second quarter trailing slightly, but there were a handful of energizing moments that propelled the home team into the lead.

Siakam had a hot quarter offensively, going off for 10 points. There was a monster dunk from Precious Achiuwa, a high-leaping block by Khem Birch, plus a couple of put-backs and a three-ball from Thadeus Young. While the two teams had rebounded equally in the first quarter, Toronto dominated the glass in the second.

Both All-Star point guards spent much of the second quarter on the bench. VanVleet -- who led the Raptors with 29 points against the Miami Heat on Sunday -- still didn’t have a field goal by half-time. His frustration was clear in his body language.

Toronto’s star guard from Rockford, Illinois finally hit his first field goal in the third, starting with a silky 26-foot 3-point jumper. But it was Siakam who was carrying the team offensively by the end of the third.

The Raptors led by as much as 12 before the Hawks chipped back and made it tie game in the final few minutes. It was, fittingly, a three-ball by VanVleet that thrust Toronto ahead. The Raptors had to control the surging Hawks late, as the night took on a playoff-like atmosphere.

It was rewarding for a collection of players who had a slow start to the year, who have flown under the radar, built, and improved together, against the odds.

“This team has a lot of pieces,” said Boucher. “People didn’t know if we’d figure it all out.”

But they have made it, and now they wait to learn their Round 1 opponent.

The Raps have three games left in the regular season – versus Philadelphia and Houston in Toronto, and the finisher in New York.