After a disappointing loss to the Washington Wizards Monday night, the Toronto Raptors were back to work on Tuesday morning.
After a film session to go over the many mistakes they made against the Wizards the Raptors had a practice that ended with guys getting up extra shots before arriving to the airport to fly to Cleveland. The team also received a talk from Rudy Gay.
Gay, only a Raptor for 11 games now, has served as both go-to player and leader for a young Raptors team that is trying to make a playoff push in the final 25 games of the season. Monday’s loss against the Wizards was Gay’s worst outing as a Raptor. He made just one of 11 field goal attempts and had five turnovers. After the game he took responsibility for his performance and acknowledged the need to be aggressive.
“We’ve just got to, no matter what, whether it’s practice or a game, we just have to really be the same way,” Gay said. “That’s how good teams get good, by being the same way every day. It’s learned behaviour. It’s not just something you get by putting a team together.”
After seven-and-a-half seasons in Memphis, Gay remembers the early days of losing, but also the process of becoming a winning team in a league filled with talented veteran franchises that know what it takes each night to play past April. Coach Dwane Casey considers the team lucky to have an experienced voice like Gay’s to explain the importance of that process to its younger players.
“He’s been through the process,” Casey said. “They started out in Memphis where we are as far as the building part of the program … he’s seen this growth and the building process and how hard it is.
“That’s what I told our guys. This is hard. What we’re going through now is hard. We can’t relax and take a step back because to get to where we are now is hard to do. Rudy’s been through that. He reminded the players today how hard it is to win in the NBA. To get a game up, to get so close you can smell it and see it, but to take that next step is even harder. He impressed that upon his teammates. If you haven’t been through it, you don’t know it. That’s what we’ve got to learn. That’s what we’re going through right now.”
Despite being with the team less than a month, Gay feels comfortable addressing his teammates about their miscues. He said there wasn’t ever a fear of stepping on anyone’s toes because he wants to win. He also acknowledged that the team needs everyone to pick up the level they’re playing at, every night, to get there.
“It’s not easy being good,” Gay said. “It takes awhile. It takes people stepping up and actually being that vocal leader. You have to do that. You have to have somebody. This is a young team. This is a relatively young team. We need people to be professional. We need people to be accountable.”
While the road to the post-season isn’t one the Raptors get to navigate on their own — they will need some help from the Bucks and Sixers if they are to reach the playoffs — Gay was firm when he stressed that post-season play is a reward born from regular season efforts.
“Playoffs is what comes from us being a good team,” he said. “Before anything it’s practicing and being a good team. That’s like a reward. We will be rewarded if we keep on working as hard as we’ve been working and get back to the basics.”
Casey agrees with Gay. He also said that every player in the Raptors locker room is aware of the situation they are in and the limited timetable they’re working with.
“We’ve got 25 more games,” Casey said simply. “We can do anything for 25 games.”
Good or bad, Casey is right. Which Raptors team will come out in Cleveland Wednesday night? That remains to be seen, but Casey didn’t mince words when describing what his team needs to do against the Cavaliers and in their other 24 games this season.
“We can’t afford to not come out and not play in a desperate mode, in a hungry mode, in a hit-first mode, whatever you want to call it,” he said. “If we don’t play that way we’re not giving ourselves a chance.”