There were a lot of questions, of course. Right up until the last few minutes, we all looked at each other and wondered if the Raptors would find a way to blow this Game 7 against the Heat. Fans have been given good reason to worry. The questions surrounding this team have been plentiful in the post-season. What if the Raptors played up to their potential? What if Kyle Lowry, on the biggest stage, played a pure Kyle Lowry game? What if Bismack Biyombo asserted himself as the largest, most dominant force left in the series? What if DeMar DeRozan hit just enough timely shots to not frustrate? What if the Raptors just played a good gotdamn beautiful game?
It happened. The Raptors crushed the Heat today 116-89 to win Game 7 and launch themselves into the Eastern Conference Finals. There are only four teams left standing in these NBA playoffs and the Raptors, the frustrating, unbelievable, lovable (but frustrating) Raptors are one of them. We made it.
The hero of the game was, as any Torontonian still breathing can tell you, Kyle Lowry. For the game, Lowry finished with 35 points (on 11-of-20 shooting, including 5-of-7 from 3), nine assists, seven rebounds and four steals. More than that however, was the timeliness of everything. Lowry made all his usual Lowry plays -- the big time charge, the sneaky offensive rebound, the timely pick and roll passes, it was all there, bang on every time.
"The moment and what it means was huge for him," said coach Dwane Casey. It was easy to see. When the Raptors needed a play, Lowry was on point. When he rested, the team listed until he could return and set things right. It came in flashes for Lowry for most of this post-season, a play or two there, a good quarter or half, a bit of brilliance to assure us the Lowry we know and love is still in there. Well, today, Lowry returned in full force. The Heat had no answer.
The other man the Heat had no answer for was Bismack Biyombo. Just as Lowry forced the issue, Biyombo always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, making noise one way or the other. He finished with 17 points (on 6-of-8 shooting) and had 16 rebounds, including six on the offensive end. He was so aggressive the Heat started going to the hack-a-Shaq in the fourth to slow him down. Much to the delight of the crowd, Josh McRoberts, the Heat's lone big man, eventually took a swing at Biyombo, drawing the flagrant. As if that would stop Biyombo. The forces of the natural universe would not have slowed Bismack down on this day.
For the rest of the Raptors, there were other bright shining moments to cherish. DeMar DeRozan finished with 28 points on 12-of-29 shooting but didn't manage to kill the team. There were times when DeRozan actually kept the Raps afloat, when it seemed the team couldn't get anything generated on the offensive end. It was a peak DeRozan performance, but that's what we've been watching for the last 96 games, so may as well it embrace it now. Meanwhile, DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson finished with double-digit scoring -- 14 and 11 points, respectively -- and both were defensively stout. Patterson had an insane seven offensive rebounds. He missed all his 3s, but come on, seven! And also, special shout out to Terrence Ross who stayed unconscious on the court. Ross made a couple of huge threes and made some eye-popping defensive plays (some consecutively even!) that you just had to smile at.
At the beginning of the year, I had the Raptors going 47-35 and losing in the first round. Many people had similar predictions. I can own it because, well, why wouldn't that be the case with the Raptors? They almost lost in the first round again, and they didn't make this Heat series any easier. Injuries and bad vibes abounded. And yet, here we are.
The Raptors played mostly ugly basketball for 13 games. But today, for the 14th game, it was beautiful.
The Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron James and the Cavaliers starts on Tuesday. Let's enjoy it.