Article Written by Ryan Grosman (@RyanGrosman)
“Enough is enough.”
That’s how I felt after the Toronto Raptors took down the Portland Trail Blazers last week at Scotiabank Arena.
Sure, the Raptors came away with the thrilling 119-117 victory, capping off one of the more exciting games of the season. But like so many games before, they lost the battle. What battle, you ask? The battle of the whistle. The battle of respect. More specifically, the respect of the refs.
I’ve been watching the Raptors since their inception in 1995 and have witnessed a lot of horrible calls. Like a lot a lot. Many of which were so blatantly obvious and so frequent that you couldn’t help but wonder if they were doing it on purpose.
A crucial late game out of bounds call. Two players diving for a loose ball. A game-changing charge call. If there was a close call to be made, it went against the Raptors.
You could bet your life savings on it and be right every time. And while I didn’t like it, I endured it. Why? Because the team was a joke for a very long time.Sure, there were some successful seasons here and there, including the height of the Vince Carter era when the team pushed the 76ers to Game 7 of the second round. And maybe a couple Chris Bosh seasons. But mostly these successes were short lived. As were the playoff runs. The Raptors just never truly established themselves as a top franchise that was deserving of league-wide respect.
That is, until 2013 when someone made the very wise decision to hire Masai Ujiri as GM. Ujiri immediately turned the franchise around and set it on a course for legitimacy. And thus a brand new era of Raptors basketball was born – the We The North era.
Since that 2013-2014 season until now (as of the time of writing), the Raptors have collected 309 wins – the third most in the NBA behind only the Golden State Warriors (360) and San Antonio Spurs (327).
The third most.
Just think about that for a second. No, seriously. Take a moment.
The franchise that once lost a whopping 66 games and purposely bore a dinosaur on its uniforms. The franchise that once let Kobe Bryant go off for the tune of 81 points and traded away its superstar player for some spare parts and a disgruntled Alonzo Mourning. The franchise that once drafted Rafael Araújo with the 8th pick over Andre Iguodala and Andrea Bargnani with the 1st pick over LaMarcus Aldridge.
Yeah. That Toronto Raptors.
Their 309 wins is more than the Cleveland Cavaliers (259), Boston Celtics (259), Oklahoma City Thunder (292) and Houston Rockets (308), all of which are very successful and well-respected NBA franchises (well, maybe not the Cavs).
But despite all this; despite being one of the winningest teams in the league since 2013, they still don’t get the whistle. Sure, even during this We The North era, the Raptors have seen some embarrassing playoff exists, mostly thanks to LeBron James. But in each year since the 2015-2016 season, they’ve made it to at least the second round. How many teams can claim that?
And to top it all off, this season is like no other in Raptors franchise history.
Why? Because not only are they a top team, they’re a top team with an elite superstar player in Kawhi Leonard – the likes of which they’ve never had. They’ve also just added a well-respected, perennial all-star in Marc Gasol.
Yet the Raptors continue to be treated like a bottom feeding franchise without a superstar player.
So if the Raptors can’t get the respect of the refs this season, when can they? What more do they have to do? Make the finals? Win a championship? Take down the Bon Jovi banner?
While almost every game has its fair share of head-scratching calls, I’m going to focus on the Blazers game. That game was truly a microcosm of what the Raptors franchise and its fans have endured for the last 24 years.
They Were on Their Home Floor
The Raptors were the home team. Really, it shouldn’t matter where the game is played. A foul should be a foul, whether it’s Scotiabank Arena or Saturn.
But it does matter. It matters a lot.
Every time the Raptors roll into Boston or L.A. or Houston, you know the refs will be favouring the home team. That’s just how it is. Unless, of course, you happen to be the Toronto Raptors.
They Were the Better Team
The Raptors are better than Blazers. And the better team gets the calls. It’s one of those unwritten rules, just like the home court thing. If the Raptors play a team like the Warriors, they’re just not going to get the whistle. Okay. I can sort of accept that. The Warriors have dominated the league for countless seasons and have won 3 of the last 4 championships.
So then, when the Raptors play the Blazers or teams like the Knicks or Bulls, who they’re clearly better than, the refs should give them the benefit of the doubt, right? Nope.
They Had the Better Player
The Raptors had the best player on the court. That usually counts for something. His name is Kawhi Leonard. Dude is a champion and a Finals MVP. The refs may have heard of him before.
Though evidence would suggest they have not.
All game, Leonard was driving to the rim with very little to show for it. In 34 minutes, he took 22 shots and only went to the line 8 times. We’re not talking about those weak-ass, avoid-contact-at-all-costs DeRozan drives. These were strong drives from a strong, elite player, with several Blazers draped all over him.
And still, very few whistles.
As we know, Leonard is a quiet guy who doesn’t show much emotion on the court. But it’s clear even he’s getting super frustrated by the lack of calls. Why? Because suddenly the fouls he’s been getting his entire career are no longer being called. I’d be upset, too.
It’s like as soon as a player puts on a Raptors jersey, his reputation and status in the league just falls by the wayside. It just doesn’t make any sense.
The Loose Ball Foul That Wasn’t
Pascal Siakam got called for a loose ball foul just for being in the mere presence of the great, almighty Jusuf Nurkić.
As Nurkić was grabbing a rebound, Siakam, who all but conceded the rebound, turned to run back on defence.
If there was any contact, it was incidental and had zero impact on the play. Yet Siakam, who has been the third best player on the second best team, still got rung up for a loose ball foul. WTF?
The And-One That Should’ve Been
So which botched and-one call am I referring to? I mean, there were so many to choose from.
I’m talking about when Kyle Lowry bounced off of Nurkić on a key possession near the end of the 4th. Lowry drove in the middle of the lane, clearly got bumped by Nurkić, and then drained a floater, while simultaneously falling backwards on his ass.
Lowry may have embellished it a tiny bit, but by any definition, that was a crystal-clear foul. And the fact that none of the refs saw it that way is a huge slight against Lowry and the team.
The 3-point Foul That Wasn’t
And finally, we get to the crème de la crème of awful foul calls – Lowry’s supposed foul on Damian Lillard’s 3-point attempt.
It’s near the end of the 4th. Lillard is setting up to launch a very crucial 3-pointer. Lowry leaps at Lillard, but somehow manages to avoid him. But while Lowry’s floating by, Lillard shoves the ball into Lowry and then takes the shot.
Whistle. Three shots.
And here I thought the NBA was cracking down on those fouls where the contact is initiated by the shooter.
Unless your name is James Harden, the rip-through move is no longer being called a foul. Nor is kicking your legs out at the defensive player mid-shot. Actually, a lot of the time, those are being called offensive fouls. This play was no different. All the contact was initiated by Lillard.
I have no doubt that if the situation was reversed and Lowry did what Lillard did, it would’ve been called an offensive foul on Lowry.
As the Raptors head towards the playoffs, again I’m wondering, what will it take to earn the refs’ respect and have an important call or two to go their way? Will winning a championship do it?
I believe that not even a ring will change a damn thing.
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