The dust has finally settled on the Toronto Raptors 2015/16 season. With everything said and done within this tumultuous campaign, the Raps remained relevant well into May. It’s the month usually relegated to pre-draft preparations, murmurs of firing the head coach and potential off-season free agent acquisitions. This spring, however, proved to be one of excitement and intrigue in the 6ix. Die-hard fans made their way down to “Jurassic Park” – also known as Maple Leaf Square – to cheer on their beloved prehistoric creatures. Other fans and band-wagoners alike watched with baited breath as the Raptors attempted to do the unthinkable: win an actual playoff series — a feat that had only been accomplished once in 2001. Eons ago, to most fans. It’s understandable that the Toronto faithful have been dying of thirst for post-season success.
This success hasn’t come easy, as the Raptors have, for many years, wallowed in the proverbial basement of the NBA’s Eastern Conference, struggling and toiling with other bottom-feeders. They narrowly missed the playoffs some years, but in the last three, have enjoyed a stark turnaround landing them smack-dab in the post season. Still, it has not equaled post-season success, beyond the second round.
Things done changed
Not this year though. The Raptors boasted a franchise best 56-win regular season, along with two NBA all-stars in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. With that, second round attainment became the hope for the entire 6ix side. The Raptors finished the regular season with the second best record in the East. They were primed to showcase their newfound prowess in the first round versus the Indiana Pacers. Moreover, their two all-stars would be relied upon to be the “stars” they were purported to be. That series proved to be an incredible revelation into the difference between regular season and the post-season.
Social media was ablaze, garnering memes from every corner of Canada poking fun at the miscues and the inabilities of Lowry and DeRozan as they continued to struggle throughout the playoffs.
For the first part of the series, it seemed as though the Raptors were hell-bent on resting on their laurels from the regular season, prone to repeat the blunders of years past. Thankfully, with the help of a cast of non-all-stars, Toronto was able to edge out the Indiana Pacers and move on to the second round to face the Miami Heat. This series left Torontonians wondering why their all-stars hadn’t dominated like they did in the regular season. This questioning, more so criticism, continued into the second round as DeRozan and Lowry were missing-in-action during certain key moments. They mustered up paltry numbers and questionable in-game decision making.
Social media was ablaze, garnering memes from every corner of Canada poking fun at the miscues and the inabilities of Lowry and DeRozan as they continued to struggle throughout the playoffs. It became increasingly evident that there was a very wide gap that separated superstars like Dwayne Wade and Paul George from the mere mortal all-stars on the Raptors.
The criticism unfortunately didn’t end there. Head coach, Dwayne Casey, drew heavy condemnation for his in-game decisions, substitutions or lack thereof.
The city of Toronto yearned for a winner, not a teaser. For many years, the Raptors played the role of the latter. Teasing fans with glimpses of greatness during the regular season with the prospects of a fruitful post-season, only to shatter their dreams into shards of discarded glass. It’s only natural that at the first sight of this repetitive disappointment, fans in the 6ix would criticize the ineptitude of their two biggest stars.
Let ye without sin cast the first stone
In plain sight, celebrities are the most imminent parties privy to criticism and fault-finding. It’s not something they can escape; it is something they have signed up for. That being said, we found some of the biggest stones of criticism to hurl at the Raps as they coasted through the regular season, and mis-stepped their way to the conference finals.
I watched their race to the ECF with a skewed lens, tarnished from years of coaching basketball.
Yes, you heard me correct. The NBA Eastern Conference Finals (ECF) is where the Raptors ended this year’s campaign. A feat never attained by any other Raptor squad. We came close years ago, when Vince Carter missed the shot that would have catapulted Toronto into the ECF. Some blame the graduation ceremony he attended the day before, others credited the Philadelphia Sixers’ defensive-minded philosophy that forced a contested three-pointer that ended Toronto’s season that year. This year the Raps were able to stumble their way into the ECF to face the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers, whom they somehow forced into an unforeseen six-game series.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am more of a Toronto supporter than a Raptors fan. My support comes solely from the three plus decades I’ve spent watching in dismay as the Maple Leafs continually disappointed me. Not to mention, the every-other-decade success of the Blue Jays. This year’s Raptors lacked character traits indicative of a team destined for playoff greatness. I watched their race to the ECF with a skewed lens, tarnished from years of coaching basketball. I observed character tendencies, leadership qualities and overall gumption that seemed vacant at times.
Nonetheless, all praises are due to this team that made it through a very weak eastern conference, solidifying a number two spot while boasting a franchise record. I applaud the cast of underdogs that pulled off an almost improbable feat.
The only failure of this season will be if they are unable to surpass their accomplishments next year. Hey, I’m from the Screwface Capital. We always have delusions of grandeur, hope for the hopeless and a critical wit and charm that only a mother could love. We love success, but we also love to point the finger when it’s not attained. We STILL the North.
Editor’s Note: This has been updated from a previous version of the story, which incorrectly stated that the Raptors and Cavaliers had a seven-game series. We apologize for the error.