Where to watch: NBA TV (National, USA), TSN (National, Canada) at 6:30pm EST.
Here it is, the moment of truth.
Ok, enough with the truth puns already.
We are officially in "win or go home" territory from here on out. The Toronto Raptors face their first playoff elimination game since last year's soul-destroying Game 7 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Now, each win will simply lead to another elimination game until the Raps lose one or ultimately force another Game 7.
Unfortunately, the odds are firmly stacked against them:
Entering this year, there have been 110 instances of a team taking a 3-0 lead in a best of 7. No leading team has lost such a series
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) April 25, 2015
To make matters worse, it's not like the Raptors have played like a team that stands a chance of winning four straight games against the Washington Wizards. A glance at the series stats tells the story of a team that has been truly dominated at every turn:
|Free Throw Rate
|(4) Toronto Raptors
|(5) Washington Wizards
The Wizards have been better than the Raptors in just about every tangible facet of the game. They've scored more, shot the ball better inside, shot better from long range, gotten to the line more, rebounded the ball better, and had better ball movement. What are the chances that all of that suddenly changes and said change can be sustained for four straight games?
Don't answer that.
Considering GM Masai Ujiri has said that the playoffs will heavily influence his offseason decision-making, there remains little doubt among the Raptors fanbase that change is a comin'. We're down to what could be the last game (or two) of this particular Raptors core -- one that has relied on chemistry and a feel-good, buddy vibe -- and we've effectively seen how far that kind of construction can go: a division banner during the regular season and a first-round exit in the playoffs.
This particular team sparked a fanbase into the #WeTheNorth movement, inspired thousands of them to stand in the rain outside the ACC for each and every playoff game, and probably managed to sell a ton of Raptors gear. In the end, however, they relied too heavily on jump shots, were a little too soft on defence, and -- for lack of a more succinct descriptor -- they lacked that elusive "it" factor it takes to be successful in the postseason.
Coach Dwane Casey's job might very well be on the line in this one, while several of these players could be playing their final game in a Raptors uniform (for better or worse).
If they want to change that seemingly inevitable fate, they'll have to dig down extra deep for Game 4 and, if neccessary, beyond.
So, if the Raptors can get better than a combined 26.8 percent shooting from the field and 16.1 percent from long range from their clearly injured All-Star, Kyle Lowry, and the newly-crowned Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams; if DeMar DeRozan can continue to put up 22.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists, but be a little bit more efficient and get to the line a little more; if the Raptors can get back to the efficiency on offence that carried them to a franchise best 49 wins; if they can care a little more on defence and the boards; if they can contain John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce, Marcin Gortat, Otto Porter, and Drew frickin' Gooden; and if they can just match the passion of their aching fanbase, then maybe -- just maybe -- they can turn this series around and take a shot at making history.
Well, probably not. But wouldn't it be great to make Paul Pierce go through customs one more time and at least give the fans in Toronto one last chance this season to celebrate having a semi-relevant basketball team in Canada?
The ship may have already sailed on showing that they have "it", but there's still a chance to show that they have "something".
Now, let's all meet in the comment section below and discuss the game as it happens. At the very least, we can get an early start on being armchair GMs for this summer if the Raptors should falter.