Emotions are running high during this complete orbital re-entry onto the world of total vulnerability—a place Raptors fans had no part of during the regular season. Let’s face it, Toronto rode high all year and that kept us from imagining what ugly realities lay on the surface. We didn’t want to imagine possibilities such as “what if we didn’t,” or “if not here and now, then where and when?”
The existential questions that we pushed aside in order to make room for our basest desires—seeing Kyle Lowry hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy with a goofy smile as a banner unravels from the rafters—are now flooding back to the forefronts of our collective conscious. We need to embrace the phenomenological state of the Raptors franchise, as much as we hate the task, because truth be told—the process of re-tooling never ends, as we’ll learn shortly after the season concludes.
Perhaps this is what the team was discussing at halftime, after they watched a 9-point lead dissipate in mere moments, because with the way they looked and played in the third quarter, you’d think someone told them the game was already decided.
But that wasn’t the beginning of the end—not entirely, anyway. That specific moment took place back in the second quarter. The Raptors enjoyed a lead which jockeyed between six and nine points (a situation I’d hoped the team would avoid) for most of the first half. With just a few minutes—2:31 to be exact—left in the second quarter, Serge Ibaka subbed in for certified LeBron-stopper OG Anunoby; a still inexplicable move by Dwane Casey, since it left the Raptors totally open on the perimeter defensively.
For the next few minutes, DeMar DeRozan was covering a shooter, Ibaka had Kevin Love and C.J. Miles (who also checked in) was on... LeBron James. By the time the “block that was actually a charge” occurred, the Raptors were already on their heels thanks to these mismatched lineups and a 6-0 run by Cleveland.
With :45 seconds left in the first half, Kyle Lowry made the most decisive play of the game: he slid perfectly ahead of the restricted area, planted both feet, tilted his chin back in preparation for the 260 pounds of diesel engine and muscle heading toward him, and took the charge.
It was a charge, no doubt about it. Everyone in the building knew it, everyone at home knew it—hell, even Cavs fans knew it. I wonder what Adam Silver thought about it.
And that was it: poof. Suddenly, heading into halftime, they managed to completely lose control of the game and themselves for that matter. Coach Casey was called for a tech, Lowry was still chirping, Ibaka—the most playoff-experienced Raptor—was in the middle of his, bar-none, worst showing in Toronto thus far. It was for moments like these that he was paid north of $60 million total. He dribbled the ball off his foot on the first possession after halftime. The Raptors’ lead was gone less than 30 seconds after that.
Let’s be honest: the refs didn’t change the outcome of this game. They made bad calls, but they didn’t change the game. What they did, though, was test Toronto’s mettle—of which the Raptors seemingly have very, very little.
This might have been the most embarrassing loss for the Raptors this season, but it’s not the first time we’ve seen the “leaders” of this team either completely disappear, or completely lose their composure and subsequently meltdown. DeRozan, Lowry, Ibaka—each of them is responsible for setting the tone for the rest of the roster.
Last night was about the worst example you can set.