Welcome to the second and final part of our Toronto Raptors post-season movie rankings! Check out Part I here for the full list of rules, but the idea is: imagine that some Hollywood producers decided they wanted to make a movie about the Toronto Raptors in the playoffs, and you have to determine which postseason would make the best feature film. How would you rank each postseason and how would they all stack up?
In Part I, we ran through the miserable, the disappointing and the embarrassing. Things get a little brighter from here on out!
2002: Vince Who?
Story: After an inspiring finish to the regular season — winning 11 of 12 games to squeak into the playoffs without the injured Vince Carter — the Raptors nearly do the same in the first round, bouncing back after falling down 0-2 to tie the series and give themselves a chance in Game 5. 7/10
Oscar montage moment: The Raptors trailed by four heading into the final quarter of the decisive Game 5, but Dell Curry caught fire, hitting four straight shots and giving the Raptors a 2-point lead. (This took six minutes, which tells you everything you need to know about NBA offense in 2002). He finished the quarter with 14 points and his final shot, a three-pointer, pulled the Raptors within two with 12 seconds to go. (Keep reading to find out what happens next.) 5/10
Best villain: Corliss Williamson. A guy who couldn’t find a fit in Toronto found a place in the Pistons, and scored what may have been the biggest basket of the series over Jerome Williams — the guy he was traded for. 4/10
Underrated supporting character: Keon Clark. I don’t even know if Clark was “supporting” here because he was pretty much the second-best player on the floor for the Raptors in this series. But he’s an under-appreciated member of this era of Raptors basketball, so we’ll give him the nod. In the final three games he averaged 17 points and eight rebounds on 60% shooting and was 12-for-12 from the free-throw line. Not bad! 7/10
Climax: The last 25 seconds of this series are insane. The Raptors have just burned their last timeout, but they have the ball, trailing by four... until Chris Childs steps out of bounds and turns it over. Then Jerry Stackhouse, an 86% free throw shooter, goes 2-for-4 from the line, sandwiched around Curry’s huge three. So the Raptors have a chance, trailing 85-82 with 10 seconds to go. Plenty of time — but no timeouts, remember, and thus they can’t draw up a play, or confirm time and score for the players on the court. Which would prove to be important, as Chris Childs clearly thinks the Raptors are trailing by four. He takes the inbounds pass, races downcourt, and heaves a desperation attempt to try and draw a foul for a four-point play. Needless to say, it misses, no foul is called and every Raptors fan everywhere throws their hands on their heads and exclaims “what are you doing!?” in unison. It’s awful, and yet, could you even have written a more ridiculous ending? 8/10
Final score: 31/50. Just getting to this point was impressive, but to have a chance to win and then blow it in such uninspiring fashion was pretty damn disappointing.
2002 movie to watch (or not): 2002 is a pretty darn good year for movies, but I struggled to find one that lined up with this Raptors postseason. I’m gonna go with 8-Mile, not for the Detroit connection (though that is there) but because Eminem’s underdog B-Rabbit has to fight and claw just to even get back on stage for the rap battle — the same way these underdog Raptors fought to make it to the playoffs and to even up this series.
2007: We’re Not Even Supposed to be Here, Part I
Story: After an offseason rebuild by new exec Bryan Colangelo, the Raptors win 47 games and the Atlantic division, and host an old friend — Vince Carter and his New Jersey Nets — in their first postseason in five years. 7/10
Oscar montage moment: The Raptors, trailing 3-1 in the series, blitz the Nets in the first quarter of Game 5, 33-13, with Anthony Parker, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani (yes, him!) shooting 9-for-11. Even weirder, Chris Bosh does not attempt a shot in the quarter. For a short while, Air Canada Centre had hope! 5/10
Best villain: Vince Carter, making a postseason return to the team he put on the map, and giving us an iconic Toronto Sun cover, in which he appears as a cartoon in a diaper. (I cannot find photographic evidence of this cover. If you have a photo of it, please share!). Carter would struggle in games 1 and 2, but exploded for 63 points on 38 shots across games 3 and 4. He also went 3-for-5 from downtown in the second half of Game 5 as the Nets almost came all the way back from that aforementioned 20-point deficit — with the last of those misses coming on a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer that just went long. 8/10 (If that three had gone in, this would have been a 17/10.)
Underrated supporting character: Morris Peterson. Peterson had worn out his welcome with Sam Mitchell, but Mitchell turned to him in games 5 and 6 to help slow down Vince and provide the consistency that Joey Graham could not. He delivered in what would turn out to be his final two games as a Raptor. (Also getting votes here: Bargnani. It took him three games to recover from the appendectomy that cost him the end of the season, but he scored 17 ppg on 61/67/85 shooting in the final three games of this series!) 7/10
Climax: Trailing 98-97 in Game 6, the Raptors have the ball and a shot to win. Chris Bosh executes a wonderful duck-in, avoiding Richard Jefferson in the post, and giving himself an open lane to score — but Jose Calderon doesn’t put enough juice on the pass, and Jefferson easily steals it. Ball game. 6/10
Final score: 33/50. One of the most fun Raptors teams ever, against the one guy the Toronto crowd loved to hate more than anyone (at the time, at least). And some hope that Bryan Colangelo had the right approach to put Toronto back on the map as a playoff destination. Alas...
2007 movie to watch (or not): 300 was dumped into March and wasn’t expected to do much. But it was a surprising success and made some people believers out of Zack Snyder and Gerard Butler, even though they weren’t really up to the task of being a great director or leading man, respectively. I think the same could be said for the unexpected success of these Raptors, and Sam Mitchell as coach and Chris Bosh as the best player on a contender.
2014: We’re Not Even Supposed to be Here, Part II
Story: The Raptors are, inexplicably, better than anyone expected, and win 48 games and have home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs... against the Nets, again! (Only this time they’re in Brooklyn.) The “We The North” era officially begins. 7/10
(Yep, still gives me goosebumps.)
Oscar montage moment: With all respect to “Fuck Brooklyn”, this has to go to Terrence Ross scoring to pull the Raptors within 1, and then intercepting Shaun Livingston’s inbounds pass — and then deflecting it off Paul Pierce! — to give the Raptors a final chance to win. It remains an indisputable top five Raptors playoff moment. The ACC had never been as loud as it was in that moment. 9/10
Best villain: Paul Pierce. Fuck Brooklyn, and fuck that guy. 8/10
Underrated supporting character: Glue guy Patrick Patterson was his typical self in this series, propping up the Raptors’ second unit by scoring 10.4 points per game (on 54/39/78 shooting) and grabbing 6.7 boards. He also only turned the ball over six times in 200 minutes. 6/10
Climax: The impossible dream dies as Kyle Lowry’s wild shot is deflected by both Pierce and Kevin Garnett at the buzzer. DeMar DeRozan comforts his friend as he lies on the floor, despondent. 6/10
Final score: 36/50. Toronto may have had homecourt advantage, but asking this young team with virtually no playoff experience to take down a veteran Nets team was a tough ask. The first Game 7 in Toronto was incredible nonetheless, and this series set the stage for everything that was to come after.
2014 movie to watch (or not): Snowpiercer, like our previous movie comp, wasn’t neceasarily expected to be a hit but outperformed all expectations. Ed Harris and Tilda Swinton play the, ah, somewhat elder villains running the show... and I can see some Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce comps there! And the ending is pretty ridiculous (Chris Evans losing an arm, Kyle Lowry attempting that shot over Pierce and Garnett) but after the train derails, still, there’s hope to be found in the distance.
2001: The Vince Carter Show
Story: After bursting on the scene in Toronto in 1999 and making his playoff debut in 2000, Vince Carter leads the Raptors to their fist-ever playoff series victory — and very nearly a second one. 8/10
Oscar montage moment: I wanna give this to Vince’s 50-point Game 3 in the conference semi-finals, but Alvin Williams’ shot to close out the Knicks — for years, the biggest shot in Raptors history — is just too important. It wasn’t a buzzer beater, and it came off a broken play, and the Raptors were already up four, so it wasn’t all that dramatic... but it was still amazingly huge at the time. 7/10
Best villain: Allen Iverson. Iverson was his typical Iverson in the series, scoring in bunches but missing a ton of shots (33.7 ppg, 40% shooting on 30 shots per game!). Still, somehow, despite his inefficient scoring, he was absolutely terrifying whenever he had the ball in his hands — never more so than in Game 2, where he scored 54 on 39 shots. 7/10
Underrated supporting character: Alvin Williams. In addition to hitting that series-clinching shot, Williams averaged 17/3/4 against New York and 11/3/4 against Philly (while spending most of the series chasing Iverson around). (And to be clear: Antonio Davis, who fought like hell against Dikembe Mutombo, was not a supporting character on this team. He was the second-best player!) 6/10
Climax: Vince Carter attends his college graduation, flies to Philly for gametime and then misses the potential game-winning jumper at the buzzer. Philadelphia moves on to the Conference Finals. It was a miss, that felt like the start of something... that was really the end. 7/10
Final score: 35/50. Somehow that score seems low when thinking of how awesome this playoff run was... but maybe that just tells me it really wasn’t all that awesome, and a lot of my fond memories are tinged by nostalgia.
2001 movie to watch (or not): This engrossing World War II drama Enemy at the Gates features a great mix of young actors (Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes) and veterans (Bob Hoskins, Ed Harris), just like this playoff series did, and a sniper duel not unlike Iverson and Carter going at it. Alas, Jude Law’s final shot finds it’s mark, whereas Carter’s does not.
2016: We’ve Finally Arrived
Story: After being bounced in the first round two years in a row (and that after missing the playoffs for five straight seasons), the Raptors finally break through, winning a Game 7 at home (against Indiana), then winning another (against Miami), and making their first conference Finals ever — and taking two games from the eventual NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers before bowing out at home. 9/10
Oscar montage moment: Kyle Lowry’s Game 7 against Miami is an absolute masterpiece. It should have been the moment that ended any “Lowry can’t do it in the playoffs” chatter, but it would take three more years for that to happen. He finished with 35 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 steals, and shot 5-of-7 from downtown as the Raptors routed Miami in the second half, and actually won a deciding game with ease for a change. 8/10
Best villain: LeBron James. This is the first of three straight times the Raptors would face LeBron in the playoffs, and while he doesn’t strike quite as much terror here as he would a year later, his “I’ve been a part of some really adverse situations, and I just didn’t believe that this was one of them” quote after taking a 3-2 series lead in Game 5 is just straight up cold. 10/10
Underrated supporting character: Bismack Biyombo. Not just because it was a damn block, but because he stepped up wonderfully in the second round after Jonas Valanciunas went down with an injury. He averaged 6.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks for the postseason — and 8.2, 11.0 and 2.1 in 10 games as a starter. Unfortunately his performance priced him out of a potential return to the team! 7/10
Climax: Toronto loses Game 6 of the Conference Finals in blowout fashion, but the home crowd showering the team with love following the final buzzer (prompting LeBron James to pause his post-game interview and return the favour) remains goosebump-inducing. 8/10
Final score: 42/50. This was a super-fun and unforgettable post-season. Sure, the first two rounds were much harder than they should have been, but it felt like the team truly accomplished something, not the least of which was getting the monkey off its back of getting out of the first round — and the second.
2016 movie to watch (or not): Just as Raptors fans had waited a long time for some playoff success, Star Wars fans had waited a long time for something like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — a movie that treated Star Wars like an actual war with actual stakes, and not a family drama about knights and chosen ones. And just as the Raptors struggled to find their footing in the first two rounds, Rogue One had a difficult production, with the movie being re-written and re-edited on the fly. And Darth Vader casually slicing through Rebel troopers has the same vibe as James nonchalantly saying the Raptors winning two straight doesn’t mean squat... just as Princess Leia’s final “hope” line mirrors the feeling of the crowd during James’ Game 6 postgame interview.
2019: Paradise Found
Story: No longer content just to knock on the door, Masai Ujiri fires head coach Dwane Casey and promotes Nick Nurse, then turns around and executes a blockbuster trade, shipping out franchise icon DeMar DeRozan for injured superstar Kawhi Leonard. And then, feeling like they need one more piece, Ujiri trades stalwart Jonas Valanciunas for veteran Marc Gasol. The gambles work; Toronto finally wins a first round series with ease, beats Philadelphia in the second round with a shot for the ages, drops the top-seeded Bucks 4-2 and then completes a championship run against the defending champs in Oakland. 10/10
Oscar montage moment: Kawhi Leonard’s game 7 four-bounce buzzer-beater to send Toronto to the Conference Finals. It just doesn’t get any more dramatic than waiting for that ball to drop, as a seeming eternity passes with each bounce. The shot was captured from so many angles, and his scream and extremely Kawhi-like follow-up explanation (“I’d never been in a situation like that, so I just decided to show emotion”) are utterly perfect. And hey, bonus points because it came against Philly, the same team against whom Vince Carter’s Game 7 buzzer beater went long in the second round 18 years earlier. 10/10
Best villain: The Golden State Warriors, defending champs, five straight Finals, two MVPs on the roster, including one whose father used to play for the Raptors? Doesn’t get much tougher than that... except a host of injuries takes some of the shine off of it. 8/10
Underrated supporting character: Fred VanVleet, who turned around an awful 2.5 series to shoot the lights out over the final nine games and harass Stephen Curry all over the court in the Finals. (Perhaps a 50% share of this should go to Fred VanVleet Jr.?) Fred also gave us two iconic Finals moments: him bleeding on the floor after taking an elbow in the face (while his tooth lay under the basket beside him!) and the primal scream he unleashed as the Raptors’ victory came within sight. 9/10
Climax: The final moments themselves prove to be anti-climactic, with video reviews delaying the victory late into the night. But giving Stephen Curry a shot to win it, after Danny Green turns the ball over with 9 seconds to go? It didn’t lack for drama, and the final “Canada, the NBA title is yours!” call made it all worthwhile. 9/10
Final score: 46/50. This is a no-brainer. The NBA Finals that united all of Canada and rewarded Raptors fans for 24 years of disappointment is taking home all the Oscars.
2019 movie to watch (or not): This is maybe too obvious, but Avengers: Endgame was the culmination of years of hard work, just like this championship journey. There were great moments, callbacks to the past and heartbreaking sacrifices, and of course, the toughest villain of them all. And in the end, there was a feeling of immense satisfaction, even if some of our favourites weren’t going to come back.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it! In the end, there weren’t a lot of surprises; I thought some of the iconic villain performances might vault some of the less-memorable series higher! I also forgot just how many of these series ended in the final few seconds (or even the final play); the Raptors certainly don’t lack for drama in the postseason, even if most of those moments didn't go our way.
We can only hope there are more playoff memories to be made in the not-too-distant future!