When reminiscing on the past, it’s easy to become entranced by illusory scenarios that might’ve been, had an incident not swayed the outcome of an event. For example, I’m sure not a day goes by that Chicago Bulls fans aren’t thinking of an alternate timeline where Derrick Rose didn’t tear his ACL. As a Torontonian, I can assure you, there are plenty of situations in Raptors history that I wish unfolded differently.
I’ll be exploring these happenings in a series, aptly titled: Raptors What-Ifs. Today, I’ll be exploring the infamous three-point attempt that left the hands of then-Indiana Pacers guard Solomon Hill just a fraction of a second too late. Because it didn’t count, this shot granted the Raptors a much-needed win in Game 5 of their first round 2016 playoff series.
Let’s set the scene. It’s April 26th, 2016, and the first round of the NBA playoffs was well under way. The second-seeded Raptors were tied, two games apiece, with the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers. Pacers star Paul George had managed to channel prime Michael Jordan, single-handedly obliterating and demoralizing the Raptors. These ignominious defeats left fans reeling, praying that their Toronto squad could muster up some energy to fight back in the following game. However, as Raptors fans, we’re accustomed to heartbreak and disappointment, so our optimism began to sputter and run out.
Enter rookie Norman Powell. He blossomed in the fifth game of the series, recording one of the most triumphant dunks in Raptors history. With that emphatic slam, he tied the game late in the fourth quarter. Suddenly, deafening cheers filled the Air Canada Centre, and the Raptors were eventually up by three for the last possession of the game. In the final seconds, Solomon Hill sliced the tangible tension in the arena with a dagger from three. A cacophony of heartbroken groans ensued. The downfall was inevitable; fans shouldn’t have gotten their hopes up.
But then, an announcement stated that Hill’s shot was released a fraction of a second too late, and the Raptors pulled off the win. The sold-out crowd was rightfully stunned and ecstatic. The Raptors went on to win the series in seven games, and eventually advance past the Miami Heat to play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals, reaching that milestone for the first time in team history.
For just a minute, let’s pretend I’m an all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent entity. For that last possession of Game 5, I’m going to rewind the clock by a couple milliseconds. Now, the game goes into overtime. Of course, from this point forward, this article will consist purely of speculation, but hey, I’m not really an omnipotent immortal being, so bear with me.
I suspect the Raptors would lose that game in overtime — the disheartening blow of that shot would have undoubtedly sunk the Raptors into an insurmountable, mentally debilitating hole. Since the Raptors lost the next game in the original series, there’s no reason to think that would have changed, and thus, the series would have ended in six games.
According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Masai Ujiri would have fired Raptors head coach Dwane Casey that off-season had the Raptors lost, so let’s assume that Casey gets canned and replaced with an interim head coach. In the 2016 offseason, DeMar DeRozan became a free agent and re-signed with the Toronto Raptors; however, in this alternate reality, he becomes frustrated with the Raptors’ lack of success and bolts to the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency, a team with which he was heavily-linked that off-season.
The Raptors are left in a tough spot, and, following Kevin Durant’s decision to sign with the Golden State Warriors, they decide to trade Kyle Lowry on the final year of his deal. Masai sends him to the New York Knicks, a team that attempted to acquire Lowry in the past, and would have, if not for James Dolan being the most inept NBA owner since Donald Sterling. In return, the Raptors receive the Knicks’ lottery pick in the 2017 draft. This trade would have certainly pleased the Knicks’ front office, who, in reality, settled for a hobbled Derrick Rose instead.
With no reason to compete in the 2016-2017 season, the Raptors opt to tank, trading away core pieces (Patterson, Ross, etc.) for more picks and younger players. Without their power forward of the future — of course, they didn’t trade for Serge Ibaka mid-season — the Raptors select Jonathan Isaac in the 2017 draft. As well, following a stellar year with the Raptors 905, Masai decides to hire Jerry Stackhouse as head coach of the Toronto Raptors in the 2017 off-season.
While these results are just conjecture, and probably aren’t entirely accurate (if at all), I still enjoyed peering into a hypothetical alternate dimension. Could one disallowed three have caused such a sequence of events? What do you think happens to the Raptors if Hill hits that 3 in Game 5?