Raptors lose game, not hope

on May 2016 | in Sports | with No Comments

For the third time in these playoffs, the Toronto Raptors have lost the first game of a series. Normally this wouldn’t cause too much of a concern as the Raptors have proven they can bounce back. The 115-84 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers however, seems different, a lot different. It was just over a month ago when Raptor fans were definitely worried about that first loss to Indiana because it had that ‘here we go again’ worry. The opening loss to Miami on the other hand was more of a ‘tempting fate too often’ worry. But this 31 point loss to Cleveland seems all too encompassing and what grips fans this time around is a ‘this mountain is just too big to climb’ worry.

It is not far-fetched to think that this game may have been lost even prior to the tip-off as where ever you looked, no one was giving the Raptors any respect. Out of the four teams left in the NBA Finals, Vegas gave the Raptors the smallest chance at winning setting the odds at 35/1. That is six times lower than Oklahoma City (6/1) who is next in line. The Cavs are at 9/4 and the favourites remain Golden State at 5/8. That is quite the huge discrepancy which means there are a lot of people that bet money that believe Raptors will not only lose, but lose badly and don’t see them even winning a game. Even CBS inadvertently disrespected Canada’s Team.

So there was very little hope for the Raptors to beat the Cavs as they arguably have the best player in the world in LeBron James, they have a healthy team and they are well rested. The initial plan was to protect the perimeter as Cleveland’s 3pt shooting has been deadly. But the strategy failed as although they were able to run the Cavs off the line, it unfortunately led to straight-line drives on an unprotected rim and therefore Cleveland got many easy layups and dunks. Fear not fans of the 6ix because as bleak as all this looks, there still is hope. These Raptors are pretty good too you know.

Before we discuss where that hope comes from, let’s dismiss one hope off the bat. As beneficial as winning Game 2 in Cleveland would be, I don’t think it will happen. The Raptors were beaten in literally every aspect of the game and it will take more than one day of practice to overcome it. Therefore, expect for the first time in the 2016 playoffs, that the Raptors will lose back-to-back games. It won’t be as demoralizing as it sounds, because the key to the Raptors success hinges on Game 3.

What the first two series have shown us is that playing home or away isn’t as important during the first 4 games, but is critical as a series continues. With Cleveland however, the opposite may need to be true. Being able to win Game 3 and 4 at home will be crucial for the Raps, even more important than winning Game 2. The Raptors will need to win every game at home to have a chance and that’s why the first one is so important. It doesn’t only set the precedent that the Raptors gaining confidence can win, but it is also about letting the Cavs know that they can be beaten. If they can win at home and tie this series 2-2, then anything can happen in a best of three.

For the Raptors to accomplish this, they have to kick up their work ethic a few notches more than they did this first game. People talk about the Cavs being rested and the Raptors tired, but it isn’t just the physical aspects that are concerning, but the mental and emotional ones as well. These seven game series have been draining. As bad as it was to get blown out the first game, having your starters sit out most of that last quarter might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

So for Game 2 expect a closer match but don’t expect the overall result to change as Cleveland still has plenty of gas left in its tank. But as the series heads north, the Raptors will have their chance to strike back. It won’t be easy. They could very well fall short. But winning Game 3 could be the start of an incredible journey. Reaching the NBA Finals may be too much for us to ask of these Raptors but having them prove they belong should not.

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