I’m not here to argue that the Raptors’ collapse in Game 1 of their second-round series against the Cavaliers is proof that their 59-win season was totally hollow and that they are in fact fraudulent pretenders unworthy of the No. 1 seed and should be expelled from the NBA so that no one ever again has to spend another second trying convince themselves that everything we’ve ever known about the Raptors is not true and that, actually, they are good this time. I am not saying any of that. Yet.
I am simply here to say that last night’s game presented a breathtaking way to lose a basketball game. I honestly don’t know how they did it!
A good starting place is to note that LeBron James and the Cavaliers did not really play that well. James finished with a perfectly respectable 26-13-11, but needed 30 shots to get there and missed all but one of his eight Westbrookian attempts from three. He still hit big shots down the stretch, but he certainly wasn’t fucking people up as much as he’s capable of. The Cavs trailed almost the entire game, often by double digits, and didn’t manage to tie things up until the last minute of regulation. Even after they made things close they committed a number of fuck-ups that, in another universe in which the Raptors are not the Raptors, should have easily cost them the game. LeBron James fouled Serge Ibaka on a three-point attempt while trailing by one in the final two minutes. Kevin Love committed a dumb offensive foul after grabbing a clutch rebound. James inexplicably avoided an open layup to dish the ball out for a missed Kyle Korver three in overtime. James did this on his team’s last possession in overtime:
And yet the Raptors managed to answer all of those frankly embarrassing missteps with disasters of their own. There are almost too many moments to rehash. Remember when Kyle Lowry took a timeout with just a few seconds left on the shot clock and then immediately committed a five-second violation? How about the team shooting 20 percent from the floor in the fourth quarter while Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to go 1-of-5 in the frame? How about Jonas Valanciunas’s hot hand becoming grotesquely frostbitten right when the Raptors needed him most? Then there was the final sequence of regulation, in which something like 17 different Raptors had 44 chances to tip the ball in for the win, but somehow managed to miss all of them:
Teams suffer heartbreaking losses in the playoffs all the time, and in most cases all they can do is throw their hands up and acknowledge that sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way. But what makes this loss particularly galling, and so perfectly emblematic of this particular era of Raptors basketball, is that the ball did bounce their way many, many times. The Pacers had to deal with the one of the best versions of LeBron James we’ve ever seen. The Raptors were treated to a much rarer sight: a LeBron who couldn’t find his shot and whose flawless decision-making processor was in need of debugging. Here was LeBron James, carrying the worst supporting cast he’s had in a decade, faltering against the team he’s terrorized over and over again. It was a rare gift for the Raptors to receive, and if there was ever a time for them to begin the process of exorcising the demons LeBron has cursed them with, last night was it. Maybe they’ll get around to it in Game 2 and the rest of this series, but for now the Raptors are still the Raptors.