I actually thought about not attending Game 7.
That’s what was going on in my head on Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11 last year. The Toronto Raptors were about to host the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, May 12 in the seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go.
I had my ticket well in advance; it was a decent one, too, as far as 300s go: Section 307, row five, right on the aisle.
But, I was sick. A nasty head cold and cough had me feeling pretty terrible, physically. And Sunday was cold and rainy, too.
Beyond that, mentally... I really felt worn down by the Philly series to this point, and maybe by the pressure of the season overall: The will-he or won’t-he urgency of Kawhi Leonard’s free agency, the debate about load management, the Marc Gasol/Jonas Valanciunas trade, all of it. Add to the fact that the Raptors had only six playable guys in this series, and I, in all honestly, didn’t think they’d win a Game 7, even if it was at home. And I didn’t want to sit there in the 300 level and watch them blow it. Again.
Game 7 against the Nets in 2014 is still pretty clear in my mind. It’s one of the best basketball games I’ve ever attended, and as loud as I’d ever heard the ACC at that point. But I remember that feeling from when it was over, just sitting in my seat, unable or unwilling to move, until an usher finally came up to us and said “OK guys, time to get going.” It was a crushing experience.
And 2014 was a season with no expectations. Even though the Raptors had home court advantage, I don’t think anyone really expected them to beat Brooklyn. Yet it still really hurt to lose that Game 7.
Now, in Game 7 against Philly, at home, with Kawhi and the league’s second-best record, there were expectations. A second-round exit would have been a huge disappointment. Facing a Game 7, I didn’t think the Raptors would live up to those expectations, and I didn’t want to have that disappointing experience.
Of course, I changed my mind, and even now I wonder how serious I was about skipping it. I’m still a sports fan, after all, and it’s still a Game 7! You don’t get too many opportunities to attend one. And... what if they did win? I didn’t attend either Game 7 win in 2016. I didn’t want to miss my chance to actually experience the Raptors winning a Game 7 in person, did I?
I wanted to be there for that. So I stuffed my pockets with cough drops and made my way down to Scotiabank Arena.
Although I didn’t regret going, the first 47 minutes of the game itself certainly didn’t do much to alleviate my fear that I was going to feel horrible at the end. The game was close, so it was exciting in its way, but both teams were so tight that it robbed it of any real flow. It also seemed like Leonard had lost trust in his teammates; 39 shots! I kept reminding myself: Appreciate the moment! Just enjoy being here! But it was tough at times (like during that 16-0 Philly run in the third quarter).
And when Leonard missed that free throw, and Jimmy Butler took it to the rack to tie it 90-90... oh boy.
I hate to sound overly pessimistic, or dramatic, but being a Raptors fan, I could only imagine the worst in that scenario. Think about how many deciding playoff games we’d lost in the final minute: New York, 2000. Philadelphia, 2001. Detroit, 2002. New Jersey, 2007. Brooklyn, 2014.
You all know what happened next.
(See? Pretty decent view from section 307!)
It’s funny, I thought about so many potential outcomes before the game — what would it feel like if they win, what if they lose, I hope they don’t get blown out, etc. — I never thought about seeing a finish like that. Even when Butler tied it, I feel like my thoughts were more about having to endure an overtime period; it just seemed so much more likely — with Philly’s size, with everyone knowing that Kawhi was gonna get the ball, with the other Raptors were all so tight — that the Raptors wouldn’t even get a quality look.
That’s the difference a superstar makes.
After the shot went through and I high-fived the people around me, I bolted for the exit. I was tired and sick and didn’t want to endure a jam-packed subway ride home, and I still had to write my five thoughts. (This left my wife, who was out of town, rather concerned about my well-being, since I was underground and wasn’t responding to her texts! I think she thought I’d had a heart attack on the spot.)
In hindsight all I can say is: Don’t ever skip a Game 7. Don’t ever even think about it. Yeah, you might get your heart broken, like in 2014. But you might see something historic and unbelievable, something that you’ll never forget for the rest of your life.