Nothing, not the Drake Curse, not the Leafs losing, not Andrew Scheer’s bloated face, not even an apparent injury to Kyle Lowry (he’s fine!), was going to dissuade Toronto from running wild on the Orlando Magic in Game 5. After a personal 9-1 run from Lowry to open the scoring, there was just no way the Raptors were going back to Orlando. They won out over the Magic going away, 115-96, and are through to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals with their first ever 4-1 series win.
Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that outcome. In their history, the Raptors have never had an easy time winning a playoff series. Yes, they won two in six games the past two years, but both of them had way more stress than they deserved. Last season they were the freakin’ 1-seed and somehow ended up in a strange dogfight with the imploding Wizards. The year before they gave up a 20-plus point lead to the Bucks and almost blew it entirely. When they were the higher seed against the Nets in ‘07 they caved in completely. And when they were winning and on the rise in 2016 or way back in 2001 they still needed the absolute maximum amount of games to get where they were going.
And of course it was never enough. Those Raptors teams were never going to win a title because, God love them, they were still just predicated on a “strength in numbers” mentality. They lacked almost entirely the elite talent needed to get any further than they did at the time. (Vince Carter in 2001 is the closest the franchise has ever come to having a top five player — and he never really wanted that mantle.) Fortunately, and literally, these Raptors are different. And there’s no question anymore: this time Toronto has the stuff to go all the way.
OK, now let’s talk about Game 5.
Wait, wait, I just can’t do it yet. This game really featured Serge Ibaka throwing a backdoor pass to a cutting Jodie Meeks for the lay-up. That’s a level of blowout the Raptors have never achieved in the post-season. Never ever. It’s something that goes beyond explanation, even though I did explain half of it just above there. The other half is that by Game 3 it became clear the Orlando Magic were not going to suddenly “figure out” the Raptors insofar as the only thing they could possibly figure out was that there was no way for them to win. Sorry, Orlando. But if there’s any consolation: Toronto knows that pain.
OK, now let’s talk about Game 5. It was a blowout, plain and simple. After that aforementioned 9-1 explosion from Lowry, the Raptors just poured it on, taking a lead that got as large as 24 points in the first, holding a 20-point lead at halftime, and achieving full-on blowout status by early in the third quarter. The lead eventually got as big as 37 points. The Magic never could find any answers — not from Nikola Vucevic (6 points), or Terrence Ross (12 points, or Aaron Gordon (11 points), or D.J. gotdamn Augustin (the Magic’s leading scorer with 15), not from anyone — there was just no way for it to happen.
The Raptors, meanwhile, were led by old faithful Kawhi Leonard and his 27 points on 8-of-11 shooting (including a perfect 5-of-5 from three) plus seven rebounds and two assists. That’s 27 points on 11 shots, and Kawhi finished a +38. There was never a time when he looked particularly stressed, as he dug in for loose balls, took the shots that were open to him, and added highlights like this one:
I mean, good luck with all that.
Leonard’s All-Star partner Kyle Lowry finished up a night’s work with 14 points (on 6-of-10 shooting), to go with nine assists and four rebounds, while in the process of making plays like the one above. Despite those brief minutes missed with an apparent hand injury (which he says will be fine), Lowry still did what he usually does in dictating most everything for the Raptors. That he also managed to take a few charges on the night, frustrating a plethora of Magic players in the process, was just the capper on a superlative series. Apparently Lowry’s Game 1 performance really was all about missing a few shots. Who knew?
The rest of the Raptors’ starters, a unit that has turned itself into quite a terror, filled in the gaps around that pair nicely. Pascal Siakam finished with a loud 24 points (on 8-of-16 shooting) with six rebounds, and four assists. Early in the first quarter he flipped a no-look pass over his head to Marc Gasol for the floater, and it really did send the message loud and clear: the Raptors were taking over. Gasol, meanwhile, returned the compliment by, well, being complementary. The big Spaniard had nine points and nine rebounds, with two assists, while completely shutting down Vucevic and controlling the paint. And out on the perimeter, it was a bout of light work for Danny Green, who chipped in with six points and his usual steady play.
But let’s not leave the Raptors’ bench out here! They too got in on the action, led by Fred VanVleet’s seven points and 11 assists, in what certainly felt like a nice bounce back game for Toronto’s leader of the reserves. His partner in the backcourt, Norman Powell, put together another run of “Playoff Norm” play for 11 points; and the Raptors’ wild card Serge Ibaka — remember when he fell apart last post-season? — continued to be a solid presence with 10 points, four rebounds, and a pair of steals. As coach Nick Nurse implied before the game, it’s a good thing when the Raptors can count on those three guys to get the job done.
Naturally, there was a lot of garbage time in this one, with everyone on Toronto’s roster right on down to recent addition Eric Moreland getting minutes. It was all ugly for the last half of the fourth quarter, but that didn’t matter at all. When Toronto gets to watch Jodie Meeks complete a back-cut lay-up, or see the lightly used Jeremy Lin hit a shot, it’s all gravy. Who would have thought, after the Game 1 loss we went through just last week, after all those stressful series throughout Raptors history, that we’d be here?
Now more than ever, allow me to repeat: we made it. And we’re not done yet. On to Philly.