British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson once said: “‘it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” That kind of philosophy can be applied to the 2017-18 Raptors season, depending on how easy it is for one to shake the lingering hurt, anger, and disappointment the Raptors left the city and all of their fans feeling.
Is it better to have had such a successful season, made the playoffs, then lost? The city of Toronto once went five years without a playoff appearance before these past five. The stands at the games would be empty and there never used to be a Jurassic Park outside of the Air Canada Centre. So is it that bad that after a nearly 60-win season and a playoff round one win, the Raptors were stopped by the greatest basketball player of this generation?
Kyle Lowry thinks so. He said it was a wasted year for him during his end-of-season press conference today.
It’s been 24 hours since the 59-23 Toronto Raptors – the No. 1 seed in the east, second overall, the best team in franchise history, the only team ranked top 5 offensively and defensively, the team with the most efficient second unit in the Association during the regular season – got swept for the second year in a row by LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s been the third consecutive year that the Raptors season ended by the Cavaliers.
To get swept by a team who changed nearly their entire roster on the 2018 trade deadline that made NBA analysts and fans alike say that this has been the worst Cavaliers team brought to the playoffs since 2008, then going to seven games against the Indiana Pacers during the first round, does in fact feel like a wasted year.
Not only to the Raptors’ veteran all-star guard but to everyone who believed in this Toronto team. Especially to the LeBron haters.
Even Pacers guard Thad Young expressed his frustration that the Raptors were letting the Cavaliers walk right to the Eastern Conference Finals.
It’s kind of like when the record-breaking 73-9 Golden State Warriors lost to James in the 2016 NBA Finals. Draymond Green said that he chasing 73 wins was the wrong thing to do, and ultimately getting the job done in the finals is what matters. Lesson learned.
That lesson, that getting the job done in the playoffs is far more important than regular season successes, is the moral of the Raptors and Cavaliers series. And, to never truly count King James out – despite how unsupportive his supporting cast may seem.
The 2017-18 season consisted of many firsts for the Toronto Raptors franchise.
On April 6th, the Raptors set a franchise record for regular season wins; a 92-73 win over the Indiana Pacers gave the squad their 57th win. This win solidified their Atlantic division title for the fifth time, but it was historic as the Raps clinched the number one seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the birth of the expansion team in 1996. This meant the Raptors would start every series in the post-season with home-court advantage.
They had the most home wins (34) and most road wins (25) ever.
- From November 7th, 2017 – January 1, 2018, the Raptors won 12 home games in a row, setting the record for the franchise’s longest home winning streak.
- From February 26th, 2018 – March 18, 2018, the Raptors tied the franchise longest winning streak with 11 games which were halted by the Oklahoma City Thunder 132-125.
- They had 100 or more point games 23 times in a row from January 28, 2018 – March 20, 2018.
- On March 21, the Raptors scored the most points in a half: 79 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. (sigh)
- Kyle Lowry notched his 9th career triple-double on 23 March 2018, making him the only Raptor with more than three triple-doubles.
- On new years day against the Milwaukee Bucks, DeMar DeRozan became the Raptor with the most-scored points in a game with 52, surpassing Terrence Ross (vs. Clippers, 25 January 2014) and Vince Carter (vs. Suns, 27 February 2000) who were previously tied with 51. On the same night, Big man Jonas Valanciunas became the first player to outscore and out-rebound the opposing team in a quarter in nearly 5 years (since Luis Scola), and the first Raptor to ever do so. Valanciunas scored 20 points in the third quarter while also securing nine of his team’s 18 rebounds in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Bucks as a team scored 19 points and grabbed just three boards over that same span.
- Dwane Casey was the first Raptors head coach to ever coach a team in the All-Star Game. (2018)
It was an extremely overwhelming and thrilling regular season for Raptors fans. The city came alive, basketball started to become paramount over the other sports, and American fans, as well as American media, started to pay attention to what was erupting north of the border.
Then, came the playoffs.
There were still many firsts for this Raptors franchise, they just weren’t as colourful and wrapped in bows as the ones listed above.
To start on a somewhat positive foot, the Raptors began the playoffs by snapping the NBA-worst Game one 10-game losing streak by defeating the Washington Wizards at home 114-106.
It seemed that the Raptors had their mojo from the regular season after getting over the game one hump, so on April 17 during Game 2, the Raptors scored 42 points in a quarter, making that the most points scored in a quarter. Followed by an additional 34, the Raps set a franchise record for most points scored in a half in a home game with 76.
The final score in Game 2 was 130-111, which was the most points scored in a home game during the playoffs in franchise history.
This was the team that so many fans and analysts believed would make it to the finals. If any Raptors team could do it, it would be this team. Then came LeBron James. (SIGH)
After having home court advantage to begin the series for the first time ever against the Cavs…
After 11 missed shots in the fourth quarter of regulation during Game 1…
After two missed potential game-winning threes…
After Drake got in a heated verbal argument with Cavaliers’ Kendrick Perkins and the NBA commissioner came to Toronto to babysit him…
After getting beaten on home court in Game 2…
After all the too-many and too-painful-to-think about King James fadeaway mid-range jumpers…
After the magical-game-three-tying-three-ball by OG Anunoby that defroze every Raptors fans heart was ripped out by James’ one-legged-off-the-glass-fadeaway-buzzer-beater…
After DeMar DeRozan got a flagrant-2 and got ejected…
After falling four games in a row to the Cleveland Cavaliers…
The Toronto Raptors achieved another first – the Raptors became the first number one seed to get swept before the conference finals in this NBA 16-team playoff format that was created in 1984.
- They’re the first number one seed to not reach the conference finals since the 2013 Thunder, but Westbrook got hurt.
- They’re the first number one seed to get swept in the last 15 seasons. The team prior to them was the 2015 Atlanta Hawks, who were also given their fate at the hands of none other than LeBron James.
But, the Raptors are a different team than they were before. That being said, they don’t need to write a new book, but they need to start a new chapter. It’s time to get rid of some tired characters that don’t benefit the storyline anymore and introduce new, exciting characters.
Where do they go from here? General Manager Masai Ujiri has to make some big moves this offseason. Unless LeBron James packs up and moves to the West Coast during his free agency this summer, the Raptors will always have the possibility of drawing the James card during every single playoff appearance, and it can’t have the same outcome from here on out. Changes need to be made.
The Raptors should keep their young core guys: Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, Fred Vanvleet, OG Anunoby, and Jakob Poetlt. This group is growing and developing their playing style and will make a tremendous impact these following seasons.
However, some roster changes to have to be made. As much as Raptors fans cringed when Serge Ibaka would dribble the ball and his extremely underwhelming performance in the playoffs, his contract is too large and too messy to get into. Will Masai Ujiri split up Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan? Both are all-stars, the face of the franchise and best friends. Unfortunately, the time for these two has run up; their chapter is closing. The Raptors can go after Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the free-agency and give the Raptors an experienced superstar player to take control; they could be the missing piece. Also, trade for some first-round draft picks, that would be nice.
Another character who will be written off this offseason is head coach Dwane Casey. He took over a 23-win team in 2011 and after seven seasons, he has one year left on his contract. With all the strides he made with this team, Casey is a candidate for Coach of the Year. But he has proven for three years now that he is unable to make the playoff adjustments to get to the next level.
Josh Lewenberg of TSN reported earlier today that the Raptors are close to parting ways with Casey. There are internal candidates that could replace Casey, such as assistant coaches Nick Nurse and Rex Kalamian, or Raptors 905 (G-League affiliated team) head coach Jerry Stackhouse.
On the outside, the new head coach could be Mike Budenholzer. He has 60+ win experience with the Atlanta Hawks back in 2015 which would be beneficial to this Raptors team, to keep them on the rise. There is also Stan Van Gundy, who was let go of by the Detroit Pistons earlier this week. Van Gundy coached the Orlando Magic for five seasons from 2007 to 2012, leading them to the 2009 NBA Finals past a young LeBron James, but they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Only time will tell how this next chapter begins, but there’s one thing for sure: Raptors players and fans are tired of the same storyline being written by LeBron James.