The Toronto Raptors will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semi-finals series later today at the Air Canada Centre.
As of this writing there’s no indication whether or not Kyle Lowry will join his teammates on the floor, but everything we know about Lowry suggests he’ll do his damnedest to make sure he’s in the game, fighting until his, and the team’s, last breath.
That’s what this is. A last gasp. At one point it felt like it could be something more, but the questions that swirled after the Raptors lackadaisical Game 3 in Milwaukee are now being pushed even more to the forefront.
Here are your keys to the game.
- Hit Threes
- Play Physical
- Communicate On Defense
That’s it really. That’s basketball in the modern NBA. If you do those three things at an elite level, you’re going to be an elite basketball team. If the Raptors do those things today against Cleveland, they’ll have a chance to extend the series to five games.
But that’s the thing: In this series, the Raptors have done some of these things for stretches, but none with the sustained aptitude that’s required of a real contender. Open shots clang. Defensive rotations are missed. 50/50 balls are lost. When those things aren’t going well, other offenses become that much more egregious.
LeBron James has gotten some superstar calls, no doubt, but what did you think was going to happen? He’s the true standard-bearer of the NBA, his face belonging on the league’s theoretical Mount Rushmore beside Russell, Kareem and Jordan. If the other stuff was going well, the calls wouldn’t matter so much.
Still, with the rat-poison cocktail of miscommunication, poor execution, bad luck and superstar calls being forced down their collective throats each night, the frustration of everyone involved — fans, players coaches — is palpable.
These Raptors, on paper, look like they should be better.
But they’re not.
The reasons for this could be myriad — they’ve only played 12 games with their full lineup, they miss Terrence Ross’s outside shooting more than they thought possible, they’re more banged up than they’re letting on — or they could be singular — they just don’t have enough talent, as a unit — but ultimately, it doesn’t matter, not to this series. Even if they were firing on all cylinders, truly pushing the defending NBA champions was always a long-shot.
What matters is the questions raised by the fact they’re not good enough, and not nearly. With Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker all hitting unrestricted free agency, Masai Ujiri and Jeff Weltman have monumental decisions to make. Who do you bring back, if anyone? Is it time for a coaching change? Do you re-up with this group and try to give them a full season together? Or have you seen enough?
These things won’t be answered tomorrow. What fans should remember, though, is that this really could be the last time we see this core group as we know it. Even if the Raptors force a Game 5, with the way things have been going, a return to Toronto for Game 6 seems highly unlikely.
So despite your distaste for the way it’s ending, give them the respect they deserve. Read our own Harsh Dave’s wonderful lament about the best times of this group.
Remember how you felt in this moment:
When it was finally all going right.
This group has punched above their weight for so long, has given us absolutely everything they have, for as long as they could.
Be upset about the coda, if you want. But when the final buzzer sounds, win or lose, say goodbye, and do it properly.
Stand up and cheer.