Toronto Raptors: The botched playoffs run and the same old LeBron curse
A good regular season
The Toronto Raptors were the strongest regular season team in the East. This team is the best that the franchise has seen in its history. Let us look at what all the Raptors had during their playoff run.
They had big men in the centre, promising young players who were stepping up and a strong bench. But the most important thing that they had was a coach who was a part of the franchise that had stopped LeBron James in the 2011 finals.
Here is what they did not have. They didn’t have an injury plagued team like the Boston Celtics. They did not have inexperienced players like the Philadelphia 76ers and the Celtics. They did not have coaching changes like the Milwaukee Bucks.
They did not have chemistry issues like the Washington Wizards and they were not a recently put-together team like the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Toronto Raptors were in the best possible position to win the conference and head to the finals.
The LeBron Curse
This was supposed to be the year when the Raptors took the franchise to a new height. But in the semi-finals, they faced a 4-0 sweep by the Cavaliers, once again.
This is the third straight playoff where the Raptors were shown the door by the Cavs. But this loss is much more impactful than the previous two. The Cavaliers team that came into the playoffs this time was probably the weakest team since LeBron came back to Cleveland.
There was no Kyrie Irving. This Cavs team was put together during the All-Star break. When compared to most teams, in terms of chemistry, this team is at its half-season mark, not at a playoff level.
The team was led by one player who was logging in a lot of minutes. LeBron James was driving this team with some epic performances. But he was weary after a seven-game first series. Fatigue was a major issue, he even stepped out of the court during that series due to cramps.
While the Raptors had some time after their first-round win over the Wizards, the Cavaliers came right into Toronto after their seventh game. But the Raptors could still not get a single win.
After last season’s loss, there were questions raised on the competitive playoff mindset of the Raptors. Maybe that really is an issue. The Raptors were a top-five offensive team with a defensive minded coach and still lost four straight games to the Cavaliers, who were the second-worst defensive rating in the regular season.
All regular season accomplishments go out of the window when LeBron James is in the equation. Facing a LeBron led team is an uphill task and winning is even more difficult. So it is not surprising that the Raptors did not advance to the next round, it is just shocking how they lost to the Cavs.
In the first round of the Cavs-Pacers series, the Indiana Pacers exposed some of their opponent’s vulnerabilities. The Cavs are an older team without many playmakers. So by having a tighter defence and having players on the Cavs' shooters, the Pacers were wreaking havoc.
The Raptors, on the other hand, did not put pressure on the perimeter. They did not exploit the cracks that the Pacers has revealed. Instead, they let the Cavs have uncontested shots. Knocking down shots not only increased the score, it also boosted the Cavaliers’ confidence.
The final minutes of Game 1 was an absolute disaster for the Raptors. The Raptors let the Cavs win. During the post-game press conference, LeBron James himself mentioned that he had not played well in the game.
After the home losses, everything went down-hill for the Toronto Raptors. There was no comeback from the Raptors and they let the Cavaliers take over games.
Coach Casey went to the finals last year just to see the championship contenders play. To observe the style, shooting and ball movement. He made a lot of changes in the Raptors style of play to make the team more versatile.
Players like DeMar DeRozan went through tough off-season practices to change their game and make improvements. But after this playoff exit, it looks like the Raptors need to do a major overhaul. But what can they do?
Come next season, every team would look to get better. The Celtics and Sixers have incredible young talent who have already exceeded expectations and now have playoff experience.
The Pistons with Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and with Reggie Jackson coming back from injury, will be a strong force in the East. All these teams will be getting better. Then there is the LeBron James team.
If LeBron stays in the East then the probability of him taking his team to the finals is always high. What will the Raptors to then? The franchise is locked into heavy contracts with players who are difficult to move.
DeRozan is a guard who cannot shoot well from the three and Kyle Lowry is crossing his prime at 32. Serge Ibaka has a contract while Valanciunas might not fetch a lot in a trade. The upside that the Raptors have are the young talent. Fred VanVleet had a breakout season while rookie OG Anunoby showed his mettle while battling in the playoffs.
The Toronto Raptors management has been patient for the last few years and has been building around their All-star guards. They have had the same coach for the past six years. But they have sadly been having the similar result for the past three seasons.
Now the Raptors’ general manager will have to make a series of tough decisions. Between the players and the coaching staff, the Toronto Raptors must figure out a lot of things while planning. So has this series loss, to a LeBron driven team that came from a tough seven-game series, been the ultimate litmus test?