Despite another franchise record-setting regular season that featured a new-look offence, top-five defence, surprising and stellar performances from a group of unproven young players, and improved seasons from their all-star backcourt, the results were the same.
And the manner in which the Raptors gave their season away, wilting without a fight in a 128-93 drubbing at the hands of Cleveland, makes the sting that much worse. In the wake of one of the saddest losses in recent memory, we struggle to find a positive to take away from the series (Apart from the performance of rookie starter OG Anunoby), and to inspire hope and belief in the future of this version of the Raptors.
Turns out, we’re hardly alone. It can be hard to find consensus among the media, particularly when it comes to talking heads and professional opinionists whose job it is to take opposing sides of an argument. Not today. Not when it comes to the way the Raptors crumbled at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Here’s a roundup of what the non-local (read: U.S.) media is saying about the Raptors on the morning after a massacre.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst notes that the Raptors were swept by the Cavaliers on the exact calendar date (May 7) as last year, a fact he says may be “jagged for Raptors fans” to hear.
The Cavs have beaten the Raptors in 10 consecutive playoff games dating back to 2016. That’s the longest streak of its kind in league history. It might be enough for the Toronto front office to execute a coaching change with Dwane Casey, who finished the regular season as a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate.
That’s what being unlucky enough to be in the same conference as James this decade will do to you. James has broken up many teams, and there might be another notch in his belt coming.
“You’re looking at probably one of the guys that’s going to go down as one of the greatest ever, and it’s a matchup nightmare for anybody,” Casey said. “We’ve seen it with Michael [Jordan], we’ve seen it with Kobe [Bryant], we’ve seen it with a lot of great players … for whatever reason, we got the unlucky draw every year, going against him.”
…For the Raptors, it was a horrific end to a season in which they won 59 games and earned the No. 1 seed. The swagger from their bench and cohesion of stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan eroded by the game. The Cavs stole Game 1, they crushed the Raptors in Game 2, James broke their spirits in Game 3, and it was an embarrassment in Game 4.
“After [Games 1 and 3], I thought we were emotionally drunk,” Casey said. “It just took the wind out of our sails.”
Barkley: I was wrong about the Raptors
TNT’s Inside the NBA crew seemed equal parts apathetic and disgusted by the way the Raptors rolled over with their season on the line.
Host Ernie Johnson likened the Raptors’ LeBron/Cleveland complex to an amateur golfer who always has trouble with one hole in particular — and spends the entire round leading up to that hole agonizing about it.
Shaquille O’Neal offered reasons why it was clear that, ever since Game 1, the Raptors were losing the mental battle in the series. But the most sombre reaction came from Charles Barkley, who had been the Raptors’ loudest and most consistent supporter among talking heads in the U.S. all season long.
Barkley, like others, pointed to Toronto’s depth, changing style and fresh legs from DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry as reasons why this year would be different for the Raps.
“You have to be man enough to admit when you’re wrong,” Barkley said. “And I was 100 per cent wrong about the Raptors.”
He paused before letting out a sad, muted, and final “We the North.”
In Cavs beat writer Joe Vardon’s post-game story, he gives a quick (but dejecting, nonetheless) rundown of the lack of production from the Raptors starting backcourt in a do-or-die game:
DeRozan completed his total stinker of a series by earning an ejection with 23.6 seconds left in the third quarter for whacking Jordan Clarkson in the head on Clarkson’s breakaway layup. DeRozan, who hit all head, was slapped with a flagrant-two foul — an automatic shower.
DeRozan, an All-Star, finished the game with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting. He was 3-of-12 for eight points in Game 3, and was so bad coach Dwane Casey wouldn’t play him in the fourth quarter when his team came back from 14 points down and nearly won.
The Raptors were led in scoring by Jonas Valanciunas, who came off the bench for the first time this series and finished with 18 points.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto’s other All-Star, went quietly with five points (he did contribute 10 assists) and shot 2-of-7.
Joining the pile-on
TNT’s Casey Stern was a guest on Sportsnet 590 The FAN’s Starting Lineup on Tuesday morning, and proceeded to rip apart the Raptors’ performance.
Raptors’ hearts were stripped from their chest
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith states the obvious: LeBron James has the Raptors’ number.
Later on Tuesday morning, Smith joined First Take co-host Max Kellerman — who picked the Raptors to win the series and stood by his prediction after the team went down 0-2 — to break down the sweep.
“Don’t give me any basketball analysis for this series,” Smith said, pointing to the bigger forces at play between the ears that limited and exposed the Raptors.
After sweeping the Raptors, LeBron is the true King of the North pic.twitter.com/qQ72RAuz0O
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 8, 2018
The Ringer — Requiem for a Raptors Dream
“The teams I enjoy watching most are the ones most doomed to fail,” writes The Ringer’s Danny Chau, who pens a sad letter that outlines Toronto’s LeBron complex along with the heartbreak that can be associated following a team like the Raptors that tantalizes its fan base with potential and glimpses of hope, only to crash back down to Earth in spectacular fashion.
Over the past three seasons, the ebbing of LeBron’s tide has consistently revealed the Raptors as we know them: self-fulfilling prophets trapped by both LeBron-induced existential dread and their own sense of fatalism. It’s as though their identity as a team was never truly theirs and was instead piloted by the public’s (and LeBron’s) complete and utter lack of conviction in them.
More than DeRozan’s diligent season-by-season improvement, Kyle Lowry’s ascent from ever-the-bridesmaid status to being one of the best point guards in the league, or the team’s incredible player-development program, this era of Raptors history will be remembered and forgotten through the prism of LeBron’s greatness.