Despite losing the first game of the second round, the Toronto Raptors will play in the Eastern Conference finals this year. There is a big “if” however and it is not based on Kyle Lowry making his shots either… although truthfully, that certainly would help. To win this series and to have a chance against Cleveland, the Toronto Raptors need to stop playing as if the weight of a losing city is on their shoulders. Even though in reality, it is.
In the sports world, Toronto is synonymous with losing. Teams from the 6ix have been so bad that they usually don’t make the playoffs. If by some miracle they do make the post season, they find a way to exit quickly. They could get swept, give up 3 goals in the first half or give up a 4-1 lead late in the third period. In fact, other than the Blue Jays this past fall, the last team to make it out of the first round was the 2003/04 Toronto Maple Leafs. The drought has been so long and over so many sports in this city that this new generation of fans can’t even recall what a winning franchise feels like. For a brief time in the early 90s for example, Toronto owned baseball and we made sure everyone knew it. To anyone under the age of 30 however, that glorious time doesn’t stir up any wonderful, lasting memories.
Therefore the first step in dealing with this burden is to acknowledge it is there. Management, media, players and fans are all aware of this pressure. Masai Ujiri and Brendan Shanahan both have talked about building a ‘winning culture’ and have tried to not only gather skilled players, but those with the right mindset that can handle this kind of adversity. After three playoff series, DeMar DeRozan is finally beginning to understand how to deal with it as he has had back to back solid games. His partner in crime Kyle Lowry however, has not. Kyle has found other ways to help this team whether it is with his hustle, his defence or his court vision, but in crunch time the team needs him to make shots and he hasn’t been able to deliver. He did sink that half-court shot to send the game into overtime, but that was simply a lucky shot. Steph Curry he is not.
No one doubts Lowry’s effort as he is still the Bulldog of Bay Street, but his shot may be off because he is putting too much pressure on himself to make this city a winner. Can you imagine how this city would react if the Raptors win this second round series? Jurassic Park would be insane, the arena would be deafening and players would achieve god-like status similar to that of Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark.
This city is hyped and starved for a winner and that just increases the pressure. Fans are going crazy for anything that is positive, even if it is only winning a draft lottery. It was easy to be a fan of the Raptors when there wasn’t any pressure. When the Raptors were underdogs for example, or when a brilliant marketing campaign led us all into believing it was us against the world. It was easy for players and fans alike to embrace the We the North campaign. But when you are the favourite, when you are the team that is supposed to win, well that is a different obstacle entirely and these Raptors have yet to master it. It did start with Indiana and it should be enough to build upon.
The only way to play with the weight of a city on your shoulders is to share the load and quite simply, just believe that you can do it. Lowry can make those shots he just needs to believe he can. The team can play better offensively; they just need to believe they can. The Raptors can beat Miami; they just need to believe they can.
For fans in the arena or at Jurassic Park or those making the trip to the American Airlines Arena, you can help this team shoulder that weight by believing in them too. Cheer for them not only when they are winning, but when they are going through rough patches as there will be more to come. Let the players know that the fans of this city have their back and that win or lose the fans here really do appreciate their efforts. The Toronto Raptors will win this series, but everyone needs to contribute… everyone.
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