Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals was nothing short of a massacre for Toronto’s best team in over a decade. All of the fanfare of making it this far in the playoffs was abruptly silence as the Raptors fell 115-84 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This was the expected result for the opener – and the rest of the series probably won’t be much different. Obliteration aside, this is a good welcome for the Toronto Raptors to the big leagues. For most battle-hardened teams, basketball season doesn’t start until the playoffs. For the cream of the crop, basketball season doesn’t start until the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.
This is the first time Toronto has been in the Eastern Conference Finals in 21 years. To put that into perspective, the last time the Raptors were in the Eastern Conference Finals, their 7-foot center Jonas Valanciunas was about three years old. Their star DeMar DeRozan was five years old. Kyle Lowry, the face of the Raptors, was walking tall at nine years old. Little did the current Raptors’ roster know that while they were dribbling styrofoam basketballs and dunking them into 3-foot high Little Tikes basketball hoops, they were going to be carrying an NBA team to the Eastern Conference Finals; one of its first.
Dwane Casey, coach of the Raptors, called the series victory over Miami a “very important” step for the franchise, but added: “We’re not done yet.” Casey was half right – this advancement is huge for the Raptors franchise. Toronto has experienced a complete cultural rejuvenation in the past couple years. Drake and The Weeknd are two of the biggest music artists in the world, and now the Raptors are becoming a championship contending team.
Where Casey’s mandatory optimism is wrong is the “we’re not done yet” portion. A Cinderella Story is only limited to the NCAA. The NBA is a cruel, cold world for those teams that need a miracle to win. I’m not saying that underdogs can’t win – look at the Thunder and the Spurs – but the Raptors are the type of underdog that needs a supernatural act to win against a team as good as the Cavaliers.
“I know what it’s like to win a championship,” the Raptors coach said. “I’m not saying we can do that, but I think this group is hungry and never say never. I know one thing: our guys will compete.”
This article is drenched in realistic expectations. Some might say borderline pessimism coming from a butthurt Miami fan, but realistically the Raptors were given the chance to beat an injured team and they did, so good for them. Making it this far in the playoffs is enough of a win for the city of Toronto, as they are looking to build a legacy between Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Having them play in this high-grade environment together for Toronto is going to give them the experience to fall back on in future seasons.
— NBA (@NBA) May 18, 2016
The Raptors are genuinely a few trades and a few good draft picks away from being one of the undisputed heavyweights in the East. Unfortunately, Lebron James is enough on his own to eclipse any rising talent in the East.
Cleveland is looking to stay undefeated in the postseason, but a few strategic benchings to keep its players healthy and rested for the Finals might be enough to give the Raptors enough of an even playing field to take one game tops.
And hey, Raptors fans are going to be able to witness the forthcoming of a team that is going to be amazing in the next few years. Even watching a playoffs-focused Lebron James play in Toronto isn’t a bad benefit of having your team make it this far.