When you think of epic NBA comebacks, you probably don't think of the Toronto Raptors.
For one, they haven't played enough big games (aka playoff contests) to stand out in any sort of "epic" fashion and two, even in the regular season, epic comebacks have been few and far between. Toronto beating Washington in OT, after Mo Pete's ridiculous half-court heave comes to mind and...well...
So this was a topic I struggled a bit with. Even the other angle some of the SB Nation bloggers were taking didn't fit. There was no epic player comeback that stood out ala Grant Hill; the return of Lamond Murray post-injury just didn't have the same repercussions.
The obvious one from the latter perspective would have been the return of Jorge Garbajosa, especially considering the nature of his injury and importance to the team. But we never saw the same Garbo again post-injury, and other options like Jermaine O'Neal' stint with the club, or Maceo Baston's return, just couldn't cut it.
So another angle appeared to me, that of the team in totality and immediately my top option for this topic came to mind; the Toronto Raptors unusual late-season win streak in 2002, that allowed them to make the playoffs.
Let's take a trip back.
Starting the 2001-02 season, things looked pretty promising for Toronto. The club had just come off its best playoff performance in franchise history, had been inches away from the Eastern Conference Finals, and besides Vince Carter, sported a solid cast of vets including Antonio Davis, Dell Curry, Alvin Williams, Morris Peterson, Jerome Williams, and Chris Childs. After a 47 win season in 2000-2001, the club looked primed to take the next step.
But the season didn't go as planned. Carter played only 60 games and the club couldn't seem to get on the same page offensively and defensively. Coach Lennie Wilkens came under fire for being too soft and as the season neared its conclusion, unbelievably, it looked like the Raptors would be sitting on the outside of the playoff race, looking in.
March 19, 2002.
Raptors vs Timberwolves.
The Raps enter the contest seven games below .500 and out of a playoff spot, badly needing a win. Unfortunately KG and the Wolves trounce the Dinos in a 112 to 80 decision, Toronto's fourth straight loss, and after the match, superstar Vince Carter is placed on the shelf due to injury.
Essentially, with only 14 games left in the season, and potentially no VC, it looks like the 2001-02 season is dead.
Cue the comeback music.
However the Raps refuse to roll over. Led by vets like Davis and Curry, and a suddenly unstoppable Morris Peterson, a Carter-less Raptors' club somehow wins its next nine straight, and a final 12 of 14, allowing them to leapfrog the competition and grab the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
This meant facing the East's top seed, the Detroit Pistons, and the Raptors' capitalized on their late-season momentum to nearly upset the heavily favoured Pistons. The Raps lost in five (this is when the first round only featured five contests) but were a Chris Childs' heave away from moving onto the second round, completing what certainly stands out to me as the greatest comeback in club history.
This streak also represented a pivotal moment in club history for a variety of reasons, outside the remarkable playoff chase. The fact that the club could be so successful without their golden boy, Carter, meant that the first fractures between fans and VC began to emerge. Lenny Wilkens began to come under fire for coaching tactics and not being enough of a task-master, (he lasted only one more season after this) and of course, Chris Childs became an all-time Raptors' villain for his shot selection to end Game 5 vs Detroit (1:08ish mark.)
Apparently he didn't know how much time was left on the clock...