Game 7, the Toronto Raptors season, and playoff run came down to one possession once again–like it had 13 years ago in the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals. Down 104-103 to the Brooklyn Nets at the thrilling end of the game, the final possession went to the Raptors, resulting in a drive to the basket by Kyle Lowry with 6 seconds left on the clock. Double teamed by two defenders out on the perimeter–a 3rd defender, Paul Pierce stepped up in the paint and blocked Kyle Lowry‘s floater attempt. The clock had expired and the road team Brooklyn Nets were left celebrating on the Raptors home floor in front of a sold out Air Canada Centre.
The last possession of the game, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey broke it down post-game, was not what the Raptors had drawn up in the huddle, but due to panic and spacing issues forced a tougher shot than expected.
“The last play was supposed to be Kyle [Lowry] going down hill, it was a different version of what we had just run,” Casey said. “Again you go back to experience, our spacing was pristine where guys kind of panicked a little bit, came to the ball. We had two people come to the ball where Terrence was supposed to be in the corner, he came up, stayed there and his guy ended up helping. Being in that situation lots of things happened in that place.”
Dwane Casey went on to say that moment will be replayed in his mind throughout the summer, and now becomes what is the final memory of the series.
“Just watching Kyle go through that meat grinder of getting open, the meat grinder of going to the rim. That will be fresh in my memory throughout the summer. That young man did everything he could to get to the basket, he tried to will his way to get that extra point.”
Reflecting on the disappointment of coming so close, but falling just short of advancing to the 2nd round and a matchup with the defending champions Miami Heat, Dwane Casey saw this 7-game series as nothing but a positive for the players involved.
“We would have loved to been there. One shot, we put ourselves in that position. One shot, one free throw, offensive rebound here or there. That close, and that’s what I told the team,” Casey said. “We were right there, and when I say right there, during the season, that’s what attention to detail is all about. You could be at the wrong spot at the wrong time and that could be the difference in the game.”
“Think about every opportunity they had a chance to do something right. Whether it was make a lay up, make a free throw, have the proper spacing, the mental things that you learn when you go through a series like this. This playoff run is nothing but positive for these young men, and anybody that thinks anything difference doesn’t know basketball.”
A focus of discussion at the start of this series was the Raptors two sophomore starters, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross. JV, while had a strong performance throughout the series–including 3 straight double doubles to begin, but the success did not carry over to game 7, scoring just 3 points (1/5 FG) and 5 rebounds.
As for Ross, his struggles, particularly on offense, were well known throughout the first 6 games, where he averaged just 4 points per game and shot 25.7% from the field. But in game 7 Ross played an improved game, scoring 11 points on 5/12 FG, while guarding Paul Pierce on defense.
The coach, Dwane Casey feels that the two young players grew with each passing game in this series, and have set themselves up to have a strong future.
“I’m proud of our guys, nobody game them a snowballs chance to be here. Terrence Ross I thought grew through the playoff series. I thought JV grew but today for whatever reason couldn’t get it going. But each game, a player, a young player grew and learned something. And today Terrence came through had a big defensive stop, a steal,” said Casey.
“I’m proud of our guys the way they battled the entire year. This group has a lot of stuff in front of them, a lot of basketball in front of them. This organization is in a good spot, it’s a in great spot, and they’re going to be good. They’re going to be good in the future.”
The Raptors fans have continued to show up and make their presence known throughout the entire first round series, not only during the 4 games inside the ACC, but also all 7 games outside in the Maple Leafs Square (Jurassic Park). Thousands of fans showed up each and every game to support the team, which did not go unnoticed by the opposition, veterans Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett both praised the team’s fan base.
Garnett gives “shoutout to Toronto the city.” Says it is loudest building he’s played in, in a long time.
— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 4, 2014
Deron: “That’s one of the loudest crowds I’ve played in front of and I played in front of some loud crowds in Utah. They were amazing.” #RTZ
— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) May 4, 2014
The team was left to reflect on a disappointing end to an incredible season that exceeded any and all expectations going into the campaign, 48-34 and winning the Atlantic Division. The biggest takeaway the coach pointed out was the growth of basketball in Canada.
“I think the interest in basketball—believe me it’s not hidden on me, I know this is hockey country. But there is a core group of great fans here, and you’ve seen it throughout this series,” said Casey. “I’ve been in some championship organizations in Seattle and Dallas. This fan base here is second to none when they get rockin’ and rollin’, we just got to give them something to do that about. And this series was a great example of that, and I am proud of our fans. They just got to stick with us through growing pains.”
As the Raptors head into the offseason, one of the main obstacles facing the team to keep the main core together is the resigning of now free agent point guard, Kyle Lowry. But he will not be the only one looking for a contract extension, as coach Dwane Casey’s contract also expired at the end of the season. Casey thinks if the team is able to maintain the main pieces of the team going forward, they will be something special.
“We’re not a finished product, we’re taking steps there. We’re on our way there. Everybody wants to rush the process we’re a little it bit ahead of it right now, but we’re still not a finished product. From Terrence Ross, Jonas, to DeMar, that whole core group. If we’re all back here then, the thing about it is, we’ll be something special.”