LA, April 8: Nikola Vucevic was delighted to book a spot in the play-offs for the first time with the Orlando Magic after six years of "losing, struggling and doubting".
The 2019 NBA All-Star joined the Magic in 2012 and, until now, the team had fallen short of the postseason in each subsequent year, while it had looked like it would be tough to make the play-offs in 2018-19.
Orlando's record stood at 31-38 less than a month ago following a 100-90 defeat to the Washington Wizards, but a remarkable late run meant Sunday's win at the Boston Celtics was enough to secure their postseason place with a game to spare.
For Vucevic, who contributed 25 points and 12 rebounds in the 116-108 success, it was particularly special after years of hurt.
"It's an amazing feeling. Nobody knows what I've been through in the last six years here, just through all the losing, the struggling, the doubting," Vucevic told reporters.
"It's been very difficult for me at times. It paid off in a great way, man, just to come in here in this building and beat a great Celtics team and to make it.
"We were waiting for Charlotte [Hornets] and Miami [Heat, also in playoff contention] to maybe make it easier for us - they didn't but it's fine. We took care of business and it's an amazing feeling.
"I'm so proud of these guys, we fought all year long. It was a tough season with a lot of ups and downs - we were down a few weeks ago, it was a very tough situation after that Washington loss. We just found a way."
P L A Y O F F S ! pic.twitter.com/16wTrTuCfG— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) April 8, 2019
And Vucevic was particularly pleased that the Magic got the job done in style, winning on the road against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
"To get in with a win is even more special for us - especially against the Celtics," he added. "They're a great team, very talented, and they didn't make it easy for us even though the game didn't mean anything for them."
Coach Steve Clifford believes his team deserved to be rewarded for their work from day one in this campaign.
"I feel like we've done it the right way," he said. "We've played our best here this last 30, 31 games and we've made good progress all year.
"But it really starts with when you ask guys to come in September, which they don't have to do, and you get the whole team there. That doesn't happen in many places.
"They have the right care factor and were able to withstand some stretches which were difficult, where it looked like it was going to be hard for us to do it. They stayed with it and they kept getting better."