The Raptors are inventing new ways to lose.
They didn't exactly lose tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers in some new, novel fashion. But it's true that Raps' losses can be quantified emotionally in different ways. There's the incomprehensible loss (beaten by the Pelicans without their three best players), the heartbreaking loss (clubbed by the Nets), the ice dagger loss (that Knicks defeat last weekend).
Tonight, going down 120-112 to the Cavaliers, the uplifting loss.
If you look at the box score, Toronto and Cleveland aren't that far away from each other. Both teams shot over 50 percent from the field (and over 40 percent from three). Both worked the glass at about the same rate. Both kept their assists up and their turnovers down. Both even had three players score over 20 points (Lebron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving for the Cavs; DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Lou Williams for the Raps).
The biggest difference in the score sheet? Three pointers taken and made and free throw attempts. And for that, you can point to one significant difference, the real gap between the two teams, and the force behind this curious post-game uplift.
Lebron James, the lone player who can make a loss feel both inevitable and positive.
"There's no way you're an intelligent basketball person and not have Lebron James mentioned as an MVP candidate," said coach Dwane Casey pre-game. "It's asinine to even think that way." And that's really the way things go with Lebron. You hate to lose to him, but you feel it to be almost unavoidable. In the first half, as the Cavs pulled away to an eventual 19 point lead, there was James calmly making the right play, again and again. James Jones for 3 in the corner, Love for 3 in the other corner, feed Kyrie, draw the foul, hey there's JR Smith for 3, and on and on. Lebron ended the first half with nine points and seven assists. A quiet game so far perhaps, but you had to know something was coming.
It did come, but first from an unexpected source. The Raptors, quietly slumping through the game for most of the first half, suddenly surged to life in the third quarter. There were two big reasons for this; one quantifiable, and one emotional in that beautiful basketball way.
The first was Sweet Lou going supernova, as he does from time to time, for 26 points on 7-of-8 shooting (he missed a single two point field goal). Those are numbers from which runs are born. The second came from a single play: Valanciunas tying up Lebron as he drove down the lane for an easy basket. The crowd exploded and momentum charged the other way. (For his part, Valanciunas also had a great game throughout with 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting and 11 rebounds; he even got late fourth quarter minutes.)
So, ask a fan as they left the arena if they enjoyed themselves. The Raptors lost by eight points, and looked casually outclassed for stretches as Lebron picked apart the team's defense and pounded whoever tried to guard him (James Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross) into submission. He finished with 29 points, 14 assists, six rebounds.
And yet, positive vibes. The Raptors went down swinging. They played admirably without their leader Kyle Lowry. They put themselves in a position to win. The game was fun.
Lebron James may be inevitable, an unanswerable basketball tsunami that coolly builds in force towards victory. But relentless physics is one thing, emotion another. It doesn't mean the Raptors (and their fans) shouldn't attempt to surf the wave. Cowabunga, dude.
What did you guys think of the game?