Article Written by Travis Aylward (@travaylward)
Following a 4-2 first round win over the Washington Wizards, the Raptors found themselves a playoff date for the third consecutive season against the Cleveland Cavaliers. This season felt different, though. Demar and Kyle were producing in the playoffs, they had the “bench mob,” and have never been more confident. But, once again, Lebron James breaks the heart of Toronto and Raptors fans everywhere. Maybe Skip Bayless was right. Maybe the Raptors really do “shrink at the sight of Lebron.” Nevertheless, there are still positives to be found for the Toronto Raptors.
First and foremost, they had a franchise record 59 wins. An absolutely magical season. The Bench Mob was incredible all season; DeRozan breaks Carter’s and T-Ross’s record with a 52-point game, attained the first seed for the first time in franchise history, and Lowry hits the most threes in franchise history. A historical season. Raptors fans were feeling good about themselves heading into the postseason, and rightfully so. They were the second-best team in the entire league. They should have been confident. Unfortunately, Raptors fans and players felt a feeling much too familiar - defeat.
Demar DeRozan - always an incredible scorer but could never get it done in the clutch moments. That changed this year ... sort of. He started trusting his teammates in crunch time more. Not only did he average 23 points, but he also averaged 5.2 assists. He no longer tried to force things in the crunch time. That changed in the playoffs. He still averaged 23 points and 4.3 assists, but when the Raptors needed him the most, he just wasn’t there. As Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca said,
“Imagine (…) Lebron James wasn’t on the floor late in a playoff game for Cleveland or Steph Curry for Golden State or James Harden for Houston or AL Horford for Boston or, heck, Bradley Beal for Washington.”
For the entirety of the 4th quarter in Game 3, Demar DeRozan was glued to the bench. In the game, Demar had 8 points and shot 3/12 from the field. Not the ideal performance in an almost must win game.
A major positive this season for the Raptors was the Bench Mob, consisting of Fred VanVleet, CJ Miles, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, and even players like Malcolm Miller and Lorenzo Brown. VanVleet was probably the most important player on the Bench Mob, as he was really good this year. Fred proved to be a very smart, low turnover guy who controlled the pace of the game, with an excellent 41% three-point percentage. CJ Miles was also an excellent three-point shooter. Delon Wright brought energy, good ball handling skills, and spaced the floor with his shooting abilities. Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam both brought energy while protecting the rim. However, Normal Powell was the one player who really regressed this year. After being handed a 4 year/ $48M contract prior to the season, Powell really disappointed this year. After averaging 8.4 ppg with a 32% 3-point percentage last year, Powell regressed to only 5.5 ppg with a 28% 3-point percentage. G-Leaguers like Malcolm Miller and Lorenzo Brown even got chances to play with the Raptors over Norm. In Miller’s very first game up with the Raptors, he steps into the game and drilled two consecutive threes. That play really summed up the regular season. No matter who was on the court, you felt comfortable with him out there. No matter if he was part of the starting lineup that night, or the 13th man; you were confident he’d play well and produce.
Coming into the season, President Masai Ujiri spoke of a “culture reset.”
“We are going to hold everybody accountable because we need to. We need, after that performance, we need a culture reset here. We need to figure it out. Yes, there’s been some success, but at the end of the day we are trying to win a championship here. To me making the playoffs is nothing. That was back in the day. Now we have to figure out how we can win in the playoffs. That’s the goal.”
When Ujiri first made these comments, no one really knew what he meant. Some people even thought he was going to blow up the whole team. Now, Raptors fans realize he was referring to the on-court play regarding the crunch time plays and the predictable offence. The past few seasons, all the opponent had to do was cover Demar and Kyle. Now Toronto is full of shooters and playmakers. Yet, despite the roster makeover, the Raptors can’t find playoff success.
OG Anunoby was huge for Toronto this year. He wasn’t even supposed to play this year after injuring his knee last season, and he was one of Toronto’s best players this postseason. OG was the one handed the daunting task of guarding Lebron James, and he did not back down. He played as tough and as good defence as you can ask for against Lebron James. He was confident when shooting threes as well. No matter what the score was or what happened last time he shot, OG Anunoby wasn’t afraid to shoot when he got the ball. His stock really rose this postseason.
Even after all the positive things that happened this season, all the records broken, and all the games won, the Toronto Raptors will once again be cleaning out their lockers in early May. Who knows what next year will bring. Maybe DeRozan and/or Lowry will be gone. Maybe Coach Casey will be gone. Maybe Kawhi Leonard will be a Toronto Raptor. No one knows. All anyone knows is that the Toronto Raptors, once again, disappoint in the playoffs.
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