The Toronto Raptors have been swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second straight year, and have been eliminated by the same team for the third year in a row.
Before the playoffs started, it seemed like this was Toronto’s year to take. They were on a roll and the circumstances surrounding the top championship contenders were in their favor.
On paper and team chemistry, they were the superior team against a Cleveland team that saw half of its roster arrive at the trade deadline. But despite both teams’ transformations, there was one constant that the Raptors could not beat:
On the brink of getting on top of the series with homecourt advantage, the Raptors buckled under pressure and let James steal one in overtime of their first game. Instead of coming back stronger in their next game, they were obliterated by the Cavs in the second half of their matchup and completely lost both momentum and homecourt advantage.
In the fourth quarter of game three, the Raptors gave a glimpse of how good they’re supposed to be. They came back from a 14-point deficit at the end of three quarters to tie the game at 103 with eight seconds left in the game.
And then this happened.
— NBA (@NBA) May 6, 2018
It was a shot that broke the Raptors’ hopes of stealing one in Cleveland and any chance of taking this series. No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in the playoffs, and the Raptors still needed to win in Cleveland in game four to try and break that streak.
For a brief stretch, it looked like the Raptors wanted to take the series back to Toronto. Then, JR Smith decided to drain corner threes like it was practice, Kevin Love played in and out, Kyle Korver was doing Korver things, and Tristan Thompson got multiple possessions for the Cavs single-handedly and suddenly, the Raptors were left with no answers.
And as if to rub it into the Raptors’ faces, LeBron James was hitting impossible shots like this one:
LeBron James hits the fadeaway and lands at the feet of Toronto's bench. pic.twitter.com/UNngY8D6sT
— RealGM (@RealGM) May 8, 2018
DeMar DeRozan was ejected early in the fourth, and the Cavs cruised to a 128-93 victory on their way to the conference finals.
While young teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers can only learn from their first playoff experiences, the Raptors were at their peak form. They have an All-Star combo in DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, a capable bench, outside threats, slashers, and hustle players. With all the weapons at their disposal, they won 59 games in the season. However, they couldn’t get a single win against LeBron James.
They were given all the tools and even a nicely paved road to the finals, but they failed miserably.
This Raptors team was given all the chances. But should they keep this roster together, their only hope of reaching the Finals is when LeBron James decides to leave the East.
But even then, they probably wouldn’t win it all if they get to face James in the Finals.
Despite the promising young group that the Raptors have, it’s time to break up their core and start anew. If this team had the DNA to win a championship, this was supposed to be the year that they took it. However, after another disappointing sweep, it’s clear that this core just doesn’t have it.
For all the improvements that DeRozan and Lowry added to their games, it seems that they’re not built to be winners together. While they did rise to All-Star status, they remained to be betas to the alpha that is James didn’t even get it together like the Detroit Pistons did against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004.
This Raptors team has reached the pinnacle, and it’s not even close to conquering the East. It all rolls downhill from here, and this offseason would be their chance to decide if they want to go all the way to the bottom to rebuild or settle for a team that will only be consistent in disappointing its fanbase.