For teams without championship rings, wins in conference finals games can be rare, so Toronto Raptors fans shouldn’t hesitate from cherishing these wins.
There are a lot of NBA teams out there who aren’t part of the championship/dynasty class and, since their inception, the Toronto Raptors have been squarely within that club. There’s no shame in it really; it can be a tough club to get out of – like, really tough.
In fact, harder than just about any other of the four major sports. Consider that between 1987 and 1998, only four teams won championships. Heck, between 1959 and 1969, only two teams did. But lately, things have opened up a bit.
Between 2004-2015, seven different teams won the NBA Championship. That’s the most in an 11 year period since 1973-1984 when, besides the Celtics’ four championships and the Lakers’ pair, New York, Golden State, Portland, Washington, Seattle, and Philadelphia also won it all.
Unless Golden State can put some wins together and bottle up the Thunder, and then shine once more in the Finals, this year there will be a new team added to the list of NBA Champions. It’s either going to be Oklahoma City, Cleveland, or Other, wait – I mean Toronto.
Of course, the 2015-2016 Toronto Raptors have already risen above expectations, climbing out of the first and second rounds to reach the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. The doubters who expected Cleveland to continue their postseason sweep tour of the Eastern Conference have, by now, been well-documented and soundly struck down for the fools they were.
Just reaching the NBA’s Final Four wasn’t enough for this scrappy squad. The Raptors exceeded expectations once again by racking up the franchise’s first ever wins in the Conference Finals.
To be clear, this is not the same as winning a championship – it’s not even worth a banner in your arena, and fans whose home court rafters are choked with banners may even laugh at the idea – but that doesn’t mean Raptors fans should hesitate from cherishing these wins. As history shows, for the non-championship/dynasty class of teams, wins in conference finals games can be as rare as trophies or Cavaliers personal fouls.
The NBA introduced Conferences, and the Conference Final format for the post-season, in the 1970-1971 season. Since that time, fans in 16 cities have reveled in the ecstasy of seeing their guys truly reach their potential and down an opponent, if only once, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The newest addition to that list is, of course, our Toronto Raptors. Other members of the club include the Baltimore Bullets, who won their last Conference Final game April 19, 1971, before advancing to the Finals and being swept by Milwaukee.
Eight years later, the franchise and its fans in the Washington, D.C. region watched as the Washington Bullets knocked out San Antonio to advance to the 1979 NBA Finals. They lost to Seattle, and Washington basketball fans have never had the pleasure of witnessing a home team Conference Finals win since.
Cavaliers fans, and those who root for other squads like the Pacers, Heat, and Celtics, are all well-accustomed to the buzz one gets when your team is on the headlining ticket of the only game taking place on a given night. It’s been less than five years since the stars on each of those teams have been lauded for their efforts in an amped-up, nationally televised post-game show following a victory during the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals. Less than two weeks for Cleveland.
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For others, those who cheer for the Bulls, or the Pistons, or the Magic, the memories are becoming less crystal clear – it’s been at least five years since they’ve been there and done that, eight years for Detroit – but the highlights are still deeply-ingrained in their minds, or, at least, in countless YouTube clips rendered in HD.
Then there are those who must look to their dusty VHS tapes to find the old, grainy evidence that their teams have gotten it done in the Eastern Conference Finals – fans of teams like the Philadelphia 76ers (who posted their last win in a Conference Final game June 3, 2001), the Milwaukee Bucks (who last shone on that stage in that same post-season, on June 1, 2001), and the New York Knicks (June 11, 1999).
The Charlotte Hornets, the Washington Wizards, the Brooklyn Nets – not counting their previous franchise iterations (the New Jersey Nets made a deep run back in 2003) – these squads have never appeared in a conference final. The Atlanta Hawks have been there, in 2015, sure, but they didn’t get a single ‘W’ against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, like another team we could mention did.
Over in the western conference, the Grizzlies have similarly made just a single Final Four appearance, only to be swept in 2013 by the Spurs, although that’s more than the Pelicans can say. It has been over a decade since the Trailblazers, Kings or Timberwolves won a game in the Conference Finals.
That’s not to say explicitly that, simply by stunning the basketball world and winning a pair of games against the enormously favored Cavaliers, the Raptors have done something noteworthy,. But it sure beats the hell out of whatever all the losers on all those other teams have done.