No one saw this coming, saw the Toronto Raptors on life support one minute, and then throwing jabs and left hooks the next minute. The Raptors had a DNR- do not resuscitate. The body was near dead. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were oxygen deprived. The mood was grim. The Raptors were destroyed in Cleveland. Their confidence was in tatters. The Cavs demoralized them and then laughed. It was a regular old ass kicking Cleveland Cavaliers style and everyone outside of Cleveland was bored. Inside Cleveland, it was all about the Thunder or the Warriors.
It wasn’t a miracle the Raptors needed. It was to wake the hell up. It was to remember a heart beats 90 plus times a minute. It was to reacquaint themselves with their pulse. If you lose, if you are going to get swept, if you are going to chalk all this up to memory, then fight until there are no crumbs left. Don’t cheat us.
Usually a demoralized team is one that has one foot on a beach in Cancun. But the Raptors, in front of their brilliantly manic fans who never ever wavered in belief, rode the backs of their two guards who finally decided to show up and get in touch with their pulse and remember a heart beats for a reason.
Add this to the facts: they got toughness and domination from Bismack Biyombo.
He was a ghost in the first two games: 9 rebounds total and looking slow and stuck in cement and over-matched. But in Toronto, Biyombo had 40 rebounds. All over the court in defensive assignments, Biyombo was on Frye, he was on Irving, he was down low for an offensive rebound, he was at the rim and established position with his body and his work ethic. He kept Kevin Love on the bench in the 4th quarter of Monday’s game. The Raptors were missing that grit in the first two games, lacking toughness and desire. But whatever virus the Raptors caught on the flight home infected Biyombo.
The Raptors backcourt were a force all year long until they got to the playoffs and started their swoon. Frankly, the first two games were an embarrassment for the duo of Lowry and DeRozan. DeRozan, at least, had really good first quarters but Lowry looked unfamiliar and his bench walk-off, as bizarre as it was to digest, seemed to shape an identity around Lowry that he never had before. Lowry had always been considered a tough, hard nosed, strong willed because he’s from Philly player. It was what got him shipped out of Houston. He was too tough, too edgy. All of a sudden he looked passive and insecure and fragile.
What happened to Kyle Lowry?
But home is home. It cures everyone. The Raptors were expected to play well but not like this. Not 204 points. 49.6% shooting. 89 rebounds. 80 points in the paint. Not outworking the more talented Cavs who hadn’t lost a playoff game. Not DeRozan and Lowry scoring the most points in a playoff game in their history, 35 for Lowry, 32 for DeRozan.
In game three, the Cavs couldn’t scratch 90. In game four, the Cavs trailed by 18, fought back without Kevin Love and the Raptors took it all in stride, relying on Lowry, DeRozan and huge Biyombo rebounds to take the lead back and keep the Cavs from a Wednesday night Cleveland celebration.
And so this series is what it should have been from the very beginning. Competitive. Tough. Hard fought. Playmaking in crucial situations. Brain freezes in crucial situations. Starters benched. Starters being heroes. The truth was the Cavs played as great as they could play in games one and two. The Raptors played as bad as they could play in games one and two. Perhaps nerves and the moment got to them. Perhaps it was the enormity of the Cavs and the Raptors being neophytes on this level.
But in Canada the Raptors shook it off. They recovered. They met the moment and pushed back the best in the East. It’s the best two out of three now with one more game back here in Canada.
Once upon a time everyone was asleep, particularly the fans. Now they are woke. Alert. No more forgetting it’s the Eastern Conference Finals. Go big. Go tough. Go hard.
Or go on vacation.
photo via llananba