“If you lose the last game of the season, nobody gives a s$@t.”

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, Moneyball

So the Raptors did what Brad Pitt’s character could never do, in their win against the Celtics last night. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what he actually had in mind.

It was fanapalooza night and the fans were treated to a good old fashioned blow-out. And while I have often criticized Raptor fans for being too emotional and too wrapped up in the moment, but I’ve also defended them as being among the most loyal in the NBA. And the most vocal.

Some sports writers, who shall remain nameless, will often throw out a Raptor comment knowing they get a lot of response from fans.

You go to any NBA forum and the Raptor boards are always the busiest.

This year, the Raptors had the 13th highest attendance in the league. And while that may not sound like much to be proud of, keep in mind that every team ahead of them had a better record, and either were in the playoffs this year or made the playoffs last year. The Raptors haven’t made the playoffs for the last 5 years.

That’s loyalty.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors

Speaking of the fans, there have been a number of comments on this site criticizing the writers here, including me, for being too negative. Some feel we should write more positive stories. Personally, I’ve always felt I simply wrote what I saw, whether positive or negative (and really, if I’m so negative, why did my prediction for the season fall one win short ?). With the team missing the playoffs for the 5th straight year, and a team that many feel is built for mediocrity, I think many of us can be forgiven if the “negative” outweighs the “positive” because that’s a reflection of the team. The team won 34 games for the season and were out of the playoff hunt almost a month ago. If it wasn’t for the Raptors taking advantage of a few playoff teams who treated the last few games as nothing more than an exhibition season, the Raptors might have ended up with the same winning percentage as last year, despite adding $20 million in salary and three “core” players to the team.

And then I really listened to Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins talk during the game.

If you listen to any Raptor commentator, and take what they are saying to heart, reading what any other Raptor writer, outside of Doug Smith, has to say would probably be jarring. You see, the Raptor commentators are Raptor employees. When Michael Grange was interviewing Bryan Colangelo, in the halftime feature, this was an employee interviewing his boss.

They HAVE to say positive things about the team or else they’ll be fired.

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That’s why you heard Leo Rautins refer to Andrea Bargnani as a workable asset that has trade value, and not the unwieldy contract that will be nearly impossible to move.

That’s why they kept talking up the Rudy Gay trade as if it was such a great move for the team, and not a panic move that is meant to save Colangelo’s job. The organization knows the criticism being levelled at them, and they have an avenue to dispute it without argument.

Of course, there was a game last night, and while Boston came into it with the same level of interest as the Hawks and Bulls before them, the Raptors did have the professionalism to give their fans a good send off.

There wasn’t really a Raptors that didn’t play well, but the player of the game was probably Jonas Valanciunas, who finished the night with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. As usual, he got to the line and played hard every minute he was on the court.

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In one sequence, Valanciunas beat every other player up the court to catch a lob from Kyle Lowry for a fast break dunk. If anyone is worried that the Raptors playing a faster pace is not conducive to playing Valanciunas, I suggest you watch this play.

One interesting moment. After a play where Valanciunas fouled Shavlik Randolph, first John Lucas approaches him to explain why it was a foul, and then Alan Anderson. A good sign that his teammates want to help him, and that he’s open to their help.

While Valanciunas had another good game, teams are obviously starting to scout him. All four of his turnovers were due to Boston doubling him and either taking the ball from him or making him pass it. Next year is going to be a big adjustment as teams start sending double teams at him.

Another of Valanciunas’ weaknesses is his penchant for fouling, which is normal for rookie big men. After his second foul in the first quarter, Dwane Casey, as usual took him out. One criticism I’ve had of Casey all year long, is he’s too by-the-book when it comes to removing players with fouls.

It was the last game of the year. Wouldn’t it be a good time to let Valanciunas play with two fouls and see how reacts? What’s the worst that can happen? He gets another foul and sits the rest of the half.

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While it’s obvious the Raptors played well, one issue I have with them is the number of times they take a quick three early in the clock. Last night, many of them went in, but that’s hurt them a lot over the course of the season. When you’re hot, that shot is fine. When you’re not, it can be a killer.

I could talk more about the game, but whether you like it or not, it was a meaningless game to finish off a pretty meaningless season. While ending the season going 7-1 might seem like a great thing, how a team plays at the end of a season generally has no bearing on how they do the next season. Worst of all, though, if there was any question before about whether MLSE would pick up Colangelo’s option, this probably seals the deal. And that’s not good news for any Raptor fans that care about building a REAL winning team.

So with the season over for the Raptors, I suggest that everyone watch as much playoff basketball as possible this spring. And make this past season a memory.

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