It was like a Michelin 3-star dining experience with a disgustingly rotten dessert. A triumphant climb halfway up the mountain, only to be caught from behind and thrown back down. A near-flawless first 90 percent of a Formula One race followed by a devastating one-car crash.
If you couldn’t guess, all of the former refer to the 2017-18 Toronto Raptors’ regular season and the first round of the playoffs. The latter, to the ugly sweep at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
This was supposed to be our year. We were a 59-win regular-season team, which secured us the No. 1 seed in the East (and home court against the Warriors of Golden State). We had a 10-deep unit that has embraced a free-flowing, spaced-out offense, which has provided ample rest for our two stars along the way.
We were lucky — no major injuries to our rotation players in the season. We were the No. 1 team in the NBA at home in the regular season. We said we were different.
Then everything came crumbling down in a flash — Maybe I should have known when Charles Barkley bought in to the North.
The Raptors were in first place and their bench was flourishing. The Cavs were sputtering, the Celtics lost Hayward early, and no other true contenders emerged in the East.
They defeated the Rockets twice, once against a full-strength Houston team on a 15-game winning streak. They showed insane fight against the Warriors, once cutting a 27-point deficit to one point in less than a half.
The Raptors had my full attention. For the first time ever with a basketball team, I tuned into games not quarters at a time, but games at a time. I embraced the r/TorontoRaptors community, fell in love with the personalities and bromances on the team and remembered announcer catchphrases.
“Death, taxes and JV’s threes!” Matt Devlin, the Raptors play-by-play man, would say after every Jonas Valančiūnas catapult triple.
“Get that gahbage outta heeyah!” Jack Armstrong, the Raptors color analyst, would say with his thick Brooklyn accent after an emphatic Raptors block.
Being a Toronto Raptors fan wasn’t a hobby — it was a part of my life.
And as this naive college freshman would learn, life comes at you fast.
After game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, I was sure those missed shots late in the fourth and in OT were going to fall, that the next game wouldn’t be as close and wouldn’t depend on those shots.
After game 2, I was convinced that LeBron James is the greatest of our generation. I prayed that he didn’t repeat this performance.
After game 3, I was determined to say that LeBron was going to be the first to blow a 3-0 lead in the NBA. Like, this has to be it, right? This exorcism of the demon that is King James has to be this torturous of an experience, right? A game 1 that should’ve been won, a game 2 with ridiculous, unguardable fadeaways, a game 3 with an insane one-legged game-winning floater.
All of this against the team that has eliminated you the last two years and won nine consecutive playoff games versus you. The team with the greatest active player on the planet. There can’t be another comeback story set up as beautifully as this, right? RIGHT?
After game 4, I was numb, speechless. It deserved no words outside of Valančiūnas, the only Raptor to show fearlessness that night.
All the hope and belief from the previous months, shattered in the blink of an eye.
It was a terrifying week I do not wish upon anyone. To be so close, yet so far. To have built so much promise and set such high expectations, yet to terribly underdeliver.
Sure, at the end of the day, results are what matter in the public eye. But I have to confess and emphasize that the process, the journey, the day-in, day-out following of a team — especially the 2017-18 Toronto Raptors — has been an enjoyable, unforgettable ride.
I was able to experience a culture change and proof of how overhauling personnel wasn’t the only solution. Ball movement and a flowing offense was a welcome change after years of isolation-heavy basketball that dwindled in the postseason.
I was able to witness the young guns of the team improve right in front of my eyes. From Pascal Siakam’s increased confidence in his playmaking to OG Anunoby looking more and more like Baby Kawhi; from Fred VanVleet quite literally becoming the second heart and soul of the team to the Bench Mob running through opposing reserves in the regular season.
I was able to watch DeMar DeRozan trigger more often from deep and facilitate the rock — the same DeRozan that was regarded as a pure slasher his first couple of years in the league.
I was inspired by the play of Kyle Lowry in the fourth quarter of game 3, where he quite literally carried his team back into the game from down double digits on the road despite his runningmate pinned to the bench. I will never forget the dogged look on his face as he orchestrated the Raptors’ offense as beautifully as I’ve ever seen.
Asking me what the future holds for this squad in these next couple of days is probably not a good idea. But aside from the name Air Canada Centre departing from the home of the Raptors and Scotiabank Arena entering (and no, the team will not change its name to the LeBronto Raptors), I don’t expect any major personnel changes, aside from maybe a shakeup in the coaching staff.
Thank you, my Raptors, for a beautiful season to keep in my mind, both the good and the bad.
Thank you for making me believe and then tearing that all to shreds.
Thank you for teaching me a little something about being a sports fan.
Someday, I will believe that we are championship contenders again. Someday, the Raptors will shed their label as playoff chokers. Someday, the Larry O’Brien will belong to the 6ix.
Just maybe, that someday is next season.
We The North.