To say the Raptors have put Toronto on something of an emotional roller coaster in their playoff series against the Indiana Pacers is accurate -- to a point. There have indeed been raucous highs, but they've been followed by white-knuckled moments of terror. Game 1 is not easily forgotten; Game 4 even less so. But the thing about the roller coaster metaphor that should most disturb Raptors fans is acknowledging the ride's conclusion: back in the same place at which it began. (Credit to Bruce Arthur for the metaphor.)
For a Raptors team that has been banging its head against the first round wall for the past three years, we know a series loss against the Pacers would be a disaster. It would put the team right back where it started three seasons ago. It's why the feeling after wins has been so euphoric and the tenor of the discussion after losses so apocalyptic. The ups and downs are one thing, but fans at least want to be taken somewhere new.
For his part, central Raptor Kyle Lowry remains unfazed. Asked whether he stayed off social media again after Saturday's Game 4 loss, Lowry was quick to dismiss those same ups and downs. "This ain't going to hurt my feelings, people writing stuff," said Lowry. "It's motivation for the inside. The same people that love you, hate you one day and love you the next day."
Over four games, Lowry has shot 32 percent from the field, and an atrocious 18.5 percent from 3. He's finding ways to affect games in different ways (by averaging 7.3 assists, making hustle plays, doing the usual sneaky Lowry things) but it's clear the Raptors need him to produce more than the 15.5 points per game -- down almost six from his regular season average -- he's at now.
"I would be lying to you if I said I'm not upset about how I'm playing ... but I've gotta keep positive." Lowry gave credit to the Pacers' defense for speeding him up -- a shot that takes 0.9 seconds to shoot is being rushed to 0.4, was his example -- and forcing him out of his spots. But as all professional athletes will profess, Lowry was adamant that the Raptors just had to relax and play their game.
It's a nice sentiment, but it doesn't make watching DeMar DeRozan any less frustrating. The Raptors All-Star has played some deeply ineffective basketball so far in these playoffs. And that's putting it kindly. For the series, DeRozan's scoring average has almost halved -- from 23.5 to 13.3 -- with comical 30 percent shooting from the field (and zero percent from 3). DeRozan is also getting to the free throw line an average of only 3.8 times per game, down from a whopping 8.4 attempts in the regular season. Playoff whistles are typically harder to come by, true, but this feels like something else. And yet, like Lowry, if you ask DeMar how he feels about the Raptors' fortunes, he projects that same aura of calm. To him, it's still just a matter of time.
"No, not at all, I'm not frustrated, I'm not complaining," said DeRozan. "Like I said, it's 2-2. The two games we lost we turned the ball over a lot, we weren't ourselves, we didn't get in our rhythm. But me frustrated? No, we're still in a great position to go out Tuesday night and get another win at home."
From the sidelines, coach Dwane Casey knows there are things the Raptors can and should do better. (And, uh, there are things he could probably be doing better, but we'll save that for another day.) His assessment of DeRozan and Lowry's play is succinct, but not without the usual coach's addendum. There are always other ways to help the team win. "Give Indiana credit, they've done a good job on DeMar and Kyle," said Casey. "But we haven't seen their best. They know that. And it may not be by scoring points, it may be by moving the basketball, it may be by helping defensively."
A fair take. So, is all this pressure and attention wearing DeRozan out, coach?
"I don't think so."
What's left to say at this point? When the Raptors win, everything is fine. The ball moves, the shots fall, they don't turn it over, and it feels like there are no obvious weaknesses on this team. The fanbase soars high. But then, there's that other side, the drop off the cliff that brings everyone back into some sort of distressed reality. It's hard not to feel in those moments like this Raptors team is circling back to where they began. And it's in these moments when everyone wishes we could just get off this roller coaster for good. As has been the case all season, there doesn't always appear to be an easy explanation.
"We have to play desperate. We have to be the hungry team. We were 2-1 but we haven't done anything," said Casey. "Our franchise, our team, we haven't done anything. We should be hungry."
It'll either happen, or it won't. Everything is fine. Let's all just relax, right?