A season that saw the Toronto Raptors clinch their first one seed, and win 59 games in the process, has gone down in flames faster than anyone deemed possible. A fanbase numbed to their team’s failures on the highest stage had to endure one more defeat; a crushing, pathetic display that leaves us all shaking our heads.
It’s a feeling that Toronto sports fans are all too familiar with, but still…this team was supposed to be different.
The signs were there.
DeRozan played at a level previously unseen all season long, to the point where it wasn’t ridiculous to think he could round out the bottom of some MVP voting cards. The output from young players like OG Anunoby and Jakob Poltl exceeded expectations, and Serge Ibaka and JV truly rounded into their roles. Yes, we lost to Cleveland in Cleveland…but we held our home court against the likes of Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Houston all year. And for once…with the floundering Cavs and injured Celtics, that was going to mean something. For once, the opponent would have to come to our house. Any potential game seven would be played in “the T dot”, surrounded by screaming fans and a bouncing building. Yes, maybe we would still go down….it is Lebron after all…but it will be different. It will be on our terms…
...or so we thought.
Instead, the Raptors faithful were treated to a gut-wrenching performance that lacked intelligence, spirit, and any kind of competitiveness. In a year where a one seed finally went down on the biggest stage…the Raptors have a case for being the most pathetic one seed in history. Yes, the University of Virginia lost one game…the Raptors lost four. But it’s not just the four losses that makes this such a joke…it’s how they lost.
People will point to the one-point loss in game one, and the buzzer beater in game three and say that this series could have been different.
Every series “could have been different.” I’m not interested in this argument.
What I am interested in is how teams respond when their backs are against the wall? How do your coaches get you up when it seems all is lost? How do your superstars behave and play?
Let’s take those in order.
How did we respond when our backs were against the wall? After losing a heart-breaking game one in overtime…we promptly lost by 18 points going back to Cleveland. A game that we really needed to have to get back in the series, we let them run us out of our own gym with our tail between our legs. We stopped being Raptors…we looked like poodles.
How did our coaches do? Well…I’m not an NBA coach. But it would stand to reason that with about eight seconds left, and no time outs…one of the best players of all time is probably going to get the ball. So maybe throw two guys on him, rather than a young kid who did his absolute best…but still let Lebron score at will. On second thought…maybe just always double Lebron. Honestly, this was maddening. In the first game of this series we were beaten by Kyle Korver and Tristan Thompson, a statistical anomaly that should have been viewed as such. Instead, we started worrying about the supporting cast, a supporting cast that was never going to beat us anyways. That is on Dwayne Casey. Lebron has been to seven straight finals at this point...he shouldn't sneak up on anybody.
And finally, our superstars. Can we even call them that? Our superstar is DeMar, pure and simple. He is our stud. He also was our top bench warmer in the fourth quarter of the third game, as Dwayne Casey benched him down the stretch. He responded in our elimination game by scoring 13 points and getting himself tossed. Clearly…that whole “fight till your last breath” thing wasn’t on DeMar’s mind.
What about Kyle? Well, while he maintained his composure a lot better than his counterpart DeMar, his play on the court killed us. TSN showed a graphic post game that should be truly painful to all Raptor fans: it compared Lebron’s stats to DeRozan and Lowry’s combined stats. Lebron had one less basket…and more assists.
So what’s the answer? It’s something that Toronto sports fans will be discussing at nauseum for months. We don’t have it bad by any stretch. We’re a perennial playoff team, which is more than most of the league can say. We have two guys that are respected enough to make All Star teams, and we always put an exciting product on the floor. But in North American sports, it’s always about one thing.
Winning a championship.
If that is the goal…to win a championship…this team simply can’t do it. The Toronto Raptors have tried to make this core work, and at some point, you just have to move on. The East may look very different in a few years, but a “few years” will just mean we have the same underachieving, choke-when-it-matters-most guys on our team who will all be just a few years older.
The league seems to really respect Kyle Lowry’s game. Get something for him. Trade aging guys like Ibaka. Get a new coach. Get young. Do something to indicate that the goal is a championship.
But if the goal is just to sell seats and make money then fine. Role it all back, let’s do the same thing again.
And we’ll all be sitting here next spring, with the same feeling.
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Alex Taylor is a graduate of McMaster University, with degrees in Anthropology and History, and a minor in classics. Alex currently attends Sheridan College, where he is working on a Journalism diploma.
Alex is also a novel writer, having written a manuscript, and he is currently working on another (fiction)
Alex Taylor writes more frequently on his website, TheFanLife.net
Alex has also written a published paper while attending McMaster University: an academic journal piece on the depictions of aging in the media.
And avid sports fan, Alex Taylor will be starting a podcast soon (titled thefanlife. It will be on Soundcloud).