Up 2-1 against the Indiana Pacers, the Toronto Raptors had the opportunity to send a message to the league by showcasing why they should be considered an Eastern Conference powerhouse and take full control of the series by going up 3-1. Yet again, the ball was dropped.
In similar fashion to what they have done in past years, the Raps continued to struggle in the first round of the NBA playoffs and are headed back to Toronto with the series tied at 2-games apiece. A chance to re-brand themselves as a mature and playoff ready team went up in flames, as they not only lost to the Pacers in a crucial game four, but they lost by 17 points. Talk about putting salt on an already opened wound. All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combined for 20 points on 8-27 shooting—not exactly the kind of output sought from two of the team leaders in a moment that could significantly shift the course of their playoff run.
Over the past three seasons, the growing pains have been tough for the squad from north of the border. Dating back to the 2013-2014 season, great promised was shown after they won the Atlantic Division (48-34) and fell to the Brooklyn Nets in the 7th game of the first round. The stage was set for the youthful team in the following season. They rallied to capture their second straight Atlantic Division crown and ended the season with a 49-33 record.
Although their record slightly improved, their performance in the playoffs did not. The Raptors failed to win a game in the first round against the 5th seeded Washington Wizards, as the D.C. representatives brought out the broom and sent the Canadian franchise on summer vacation.
With this most recent loss, one can only imagine the grumblings of “here we go again” in the locker room, but face it, NBA players are also human and Toronto’s track record does not speak well for them in the first round of the playoffs, nor does it speak to much fight in the ballclub when their backs are against the wall.
One thing the Raptors have going for them is if there was a season for the team to make the leap, it would be this season. In the offseason, they added forward DeMarre Carroll to the tune of a four-year deal worth $60 million. They also acquired forward Luis Scola, which gives them additional depth in their frontcourt. These two were brought in to provide additional scoring options so that the ball could be spread around a little more. And right now they could use all the help they could get since the Pacers are putting their dukes up and could care less about their seventh seeding in the playoffs and the Raptors’ second seed.
If the Raptors are unable to win this series and make a deep playoff push, history tells us change will come swiftly. Most likely, the coach will get the ax first, as that has been seen to be the case with successful teams in prior years that have trouble getting. Most recently, Scott Brooks was given walking papers by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Tom Thibodeau got the boot by the Chicago Bulls. Lionel Hollins was sent off by the Memphis Grizzlies. And if Dwayne Casey doesn’t get his troops through the fire, he could be on his way out.