Optimism all but gone for Raptors, facing sweep at hands of Cavaliers
Raptors' Serge Ibaka (left), DeMar DeRozan (centre) and DeMarre Carroll watch the action from the bench as they take on the Cavaliers during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA's second round playoff series in Toronto on Friday, May 5, 2017. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press)
The season isn't over. That is what they say.
Still an opportunity. They say that too.
Can’t let go of the rope. That’s one of the coach’s favourites.
All of it is true and yet all of it feels so this-is-what-we-are-supposed-to-say.
The Raptors season is down to one loss. One more loss in any of the next four, assuming it takes that long, and they can break out the golf clubs.
Right now it feels like a letdown. A season of some promise became a season of better promise at the trade deadline when defensive stalwarts Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker were added.
There was that major hiccup of a 23-game absence by Kyle Lowry that ended just before the playoffs began, but even that seemed to have been rectified once the Raptors got their wake-up call in the first round.
Three consecutive wins coming to a series with the defending champs and everything felt pretty good all things being considered.
But now, just over a week later, that optimism is all but gone.
There are cries of burn it all down and start the rebuild. There are demands for the head coach’s job. There are demands that management not even consider the opportunity of bringing back the point guard who has been the crux of this team for the past four seasons.
Much of it is based on that feeling that one gets when you get through three games in a series, have a total of three quarters you can actually be proud of, and still not a result you can say the same about.
That being said, and this is not a defence of the Raptors, we do tend to forget this is the defending NBA champs, bolstered by a world-class three-point shooter they didn’t have a year ago in Kyle Korver.
There is the case to be made, and it’s a good one, that the Raptors season, if this is really the end, gets measured somewhat harshly only because they meet the Cavs one road earlier than they did a year previous.
Believe that or don’t, but keep in mind the onus that was put on finishing in the top three in the Conference all season long for the sole purpose of not having to face the Cavs any earlier than the third round. There was a reason for that.
“We tend to forget -- I mean I think we have had an excellent season,” Casey said. “We are in the semifinals of the Eastern Conference playoffs and yeah we are struggling against probably the favourite to win our Conference.”
And don’t forget also that the LeBron the Raptors are seeing in this series is not your normal second-round LeBron.
James is in Finals mode already, two full series before the actual Finals begins.
At the age of 32 he’s averaging more minutes a night than any player in the NBA playoffs. The only player you could say is statistically having a better playoffs than him is San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard who is seven years his junior.
“He seems a lot faster and quicker this year from last year,” Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan said. “That extra hop, step, you know, everything out there on the court, you look at the score sheet after the game he’s still playing 42 minutes a game, whatever it is. It’s incredible for somebody with that amount of mileage on them to come back seemingly faster and quicker the next year. I’ll say just him out there is much different from last year.”
The season may not be over but the way it feels now only LeBron and company taking their foot off the gas will prolong it.
Lowry, who would make things a little more interesting were he healthy, described his chances of playing in Game 4 as "doubtful."
With him at full strength the Raptors remain a long shot. Without him the odds are longer still.
But the question becomes should this really surprise anyone?
Even those out there, and I was certainly one, who thought the Ibaka and Tucker additions could at least make the series interesting, still didn’t have the Raptors as favourites going into this thing.
Maybe big changes are coming. Maybe they were coming regardless of how quickly this series and the season comes to an end.
But to suggest a sound thrashing by a Cleveland Cavaliers team clicking on all cylinders and with a top-of-his-game LeBron James to turn to should alter that thinking in any way is just wrong.
RIGHT PIECES IN PLACE
Dwane Casey believes he has the pieces to give the Cavs a better run.
He just sounds like he’d like to have the opportunity a year from now rather than present day.
“It’s hard to say,” Casey said when asked how close the Raptors’ team, as currently constructed, were to making a legitimate run at the Cavs.
“I like our team, it’s the most talented team we’ve had (but) it does take time when you’re trying to integrate those pieces together and the timing, with Kyle (Lowry) being and coming back in again, it’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge, and it’s not something that you can’t overcome.
“How close are we to Cleveland -- if, when -- it’s hard to say,” Casey said. “If is a huge world in that situation because this group hasn’t had a training camp or time together to go against him. But I like this group, we have the right pieces in place.”