The Toronto Raptors have officially been eliminated from the playoffs and you can agonize over all of the coulda, woulda, shoulda’s you want. But do any of us really think that a healthy Jonas Valanciunas, unbiased referees or someone, anyone making an open three would have been enough to turn the tide? Most likely not and with three minutes left in the fourth quarter of game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, realization sets in. The Toronto Raptors would get this far, and no further. There is no shame in losing to a Cleveland Cavalier team that was more talented, better rested and hell bent on a championship. So when Dwayne Casey substituted his all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan out of the game, they crossed the floor and congratulated their opponents. It was a nice touch from a couple of athletes who had given it their all. As they made way back to their own bench the fans cheered them on.
It was a disappointing game and a disappointing end to a magical playoff ride that lasted 20 games. To put that into some perspective, prior to 2016 the Toronto Raptors played a total of 42 playoff games in 20 seasons. It was an incredible stretch of games, an up and down adventure that’s been a long time coming for this sport in this city. The fans wanted there to be no mistake, no misunderstanding. They wanted their team and the league to know how thankful they were of the Raptors efforts and successes. So before the final whistle blew and even for some time after, they filled the arena with “Let’s Go Raptors” and “We the North” chants. It did not go unnoticed.
LeBron giving big props to Raptors fans and the country, "never been part of anything like it" pic.twitter.com/mthQzw3FUv
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) May 28, 2016
Losses hurt and this one hurt a bit more than most as you realize the Raptors were within two games of the NBA finals. But games like this and moments like this do not come around very often (unless of course you are LeBron James) and they should be revered by fans and players alike. So as I sat there in sheer admiration of those fans chanting “We the North” I better understood this motto. It isn’t vindication for the last second loss to Brooklyn. It isn’t vindication for the humiliating sweep at the hands of the Wizards. It isn’t even vindication for all those people who kept telling the Raptors that you just don’t have what it takes to be a winner. It was a simple affirmation of a bond between a fan base and its team and that moment should be enjoyed.
So don’t go rushing into asking if DeRozan is worth max money (I’ll be doing it shortly) and don’t worry if you fear that Bizmack Biyombo won’t be part of the team next year. Just take a breath and understand there is still plenty of time to think and worry about those things (and legitimately worry about it) soon enough.
43 puntitos y game-winner incluido contra Cleveland. Noche de ensueño para Lowry. https://t.co/A7KGW0QcdR
— EstadisticasNBA (@EstadisticasNBA) February 27, 2016
Instead, look back at the wonderful season with records in wins (56), home wins (32) and away wins (24). We had two all-stars representing this team in the very first All-Star game in Toronto. We saw a team battle for first place in the Eastern Conference the entire season and only fell a game short. They had the 4th best record in the entire NBA and outlasted the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. Not too shabby.
There were some not so good moments too and some as recent as this series. Getting blown out by Cleveland consistently has revealed though, that the Raptors are not at the same level. Bridging the gap from good to great is one thing, but bridging the gap from great to Championship is the most difficult step to accomplish. Masai Ujiri is working on it as are Casey and his assistants. The future is in fine hands so for now, just enjoy the moment.
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