The featured image on this article, which now doubles as my masochistic Twitter avatar, is perfect. If a picture is worth a thousand words, that one is also worth a thousand feels. It brings on a wave of emotion – the heart break, the closeness of it all, and just how much I (we) loved this team.

This article is not analysis. You’ve probably read plenty of end-of-season pieces already, and I didn’t have the heart to dive into the X’s and O’s of the Game 7 loss for an article, though I did subject myself to a second viewing of Game 7 this morning, which has to be the worst way anyone has ever voluntarily started off their birthday. I had no idea what to write about, and I really still don’t. I have a lot of thoughts, and they don’t connect in any appreciable way to form any narrative arc. So, I guess, apologies for what will surely be rambling, but here’s hoping it’s cathartic, if not for you then for me.

I loved this year’s Toronto Raptors team.

Obviously, to commit this much compensation-free time to a Raptors blog, we all do. I’ve been writing about the team since 2007 and regularly since roughly the summer of 2008, on-and-off for the most part but steady for three years or so. This is, without question, my favourite instalment of the Raptors in that time. The 2000-01 team got me into basketball, the 2001-02 team’s improbable playoff push hooked me, and the 2006-07 Atlantic Division Championship team (#bannerz) led me to begin writing. As with most, I’m sure, I have fond memories of the Vince Carter years and, to a lesser degree, the “Garbajosa Era” (I assume I’m not alone in viewing Garbo, not Chris Bosh, as the avatar for that season, right?). Those teams, while exciting and memorable, don’t hold a candle. At least not right now. Recency bias? Sure, probably. But this team was just so damn likable.

More from RR:

Kyle Lowry has been my dude since Day One; I believed in Greivis Vasquez when he said the best was still to come; watching DeMar DeRozan’s growth over the last five years has been a fun, though oft-frustrating, ride; oscillating on how I feel about Terrence Ross and his potential has been, umm, interesting; I’ve come a long way in terms of respect for Dwane Casey, too. And yes, I did happen to go through my RR archives today to kind of re-live the season again (and damn if I hardly ever write about Jonas Valanciunas, oddly enough). I even like John Salmons’ chain-and-shoe combinations, which is the nicest thing I can bring myself to say about him right now.

It’s been a pretty incredible season to relive. I already wrote a season in review, so I won’t copy and paste the details, but Shamgoddam if this wasn’t one hell of a ride. They were 6-12, all but counted out, and I was 75 percent sure that on May 5, 2014, I’d be writing about the lottery odds as they relate to Andrew Wiggins. Even when things began turning around – and it wasn’t as unlikely as we way remember, given how well the pieces suddenly fit on paper – it was tough to believe. I think we all spent a great deal of time waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And then they reached .500 with a win over Indiana on New Year’s Day. That shoe didn’t drop. They stayed hot into the All-Star break. No Kobes, no Jordans. They won nine of 12 out of the break. Not a Puma or Red October.

I guess you could say that the shoe finally dropped on Sunday’s final play, but that would be a disservice to the season and that playoff series. The clock didn’t strike midnight and turn the Raptors back into a pumpkin – they simply lost, narrowly, to a team of nearly equal standing. In 11 meetings, the Nets won 6-5 but the score was tied 1,070-1,070. That’s nuts. I employed snark at the start of the series when some suggested that experience would be the difference in the series. The gap was enormous, in numbers and in plain sight, especially in Games 1, 5 and 6. Experience didn’t win the Nets the series, of course, but it may have served as a tiebreaker when the two teams played 528 minutes this season to a dead heat. Someone had to win, and the Nets hung on.

This series actually pushed me towards investing more heavily in the intangible. The Nets were more composed in Game 1 and knew exactly what to do later in the series with their backs against the wall. They knew how to leverage a sometimes loosely refereed series and were adept at judging when the tide was turning to a more closely-called affair (note: I’m not going to harp on the officiating right now, but I’ll be GIFing Amir Johnson’s fouls from yesterday for a post tomorrow, because I hate myself).

At the same time, the Raptors kept winning games despite playing well below their standard. It’s tough to explain that, and it leaves little room for interpretation: heart matters. Guts matter. Attitude matters. This team refused to die all season long and fought until literally the very final buzzer on Sunday. I have no doubt that if the Raptors had been down 30 late in Game 7, they would have kept fighting and chipping away. If the game continued as a tie? Kyle Lowry would probably still be out on the floor, and Amir Johnson would still be out there limping like a White Walker, had he not fouled out. I’m surprised they were able to get Lowry up off the floor when the game ended, to be honest.

And that kinda brings us back to the picture. Like I said, it’s perfect. This team genuinely seems to like each other – for the first time, I had occasional press access this year, and can actually speak to that beyond just what we see on the screen – and support each other. Lowry laying on the ground, surely awash in emotion, being consoled by his co-pilot of this team, while the ACC and Maple Leaf Square outside rained down their appreciative support.

It wasn’t just me that loved this team, obviously. The team really, truly captured the heart of the city over the course of the season and the past few weeks. Record-setting television ratings that outstripped the NHL playoffs, insane comment and traffic numbers here at RR, nationally televised games, hundreds watching the game outside in the rain…it was all enough that the normally prickly Nets even gave out serious, unprompted dap to the crowd, and as I write this, quotes from locker clean-out day continue to filter in on Twitter showing that the Raptors definitely noticed and appreciated it, too. Maybe that means nothing at all. Maybe all it means is a couple of nationally televised games next year. Maybe it means Lowry stays, Andrew Wiggins pulls an Eric Lindros and demands to be traded on draft night and Kevin Durant signs here in 2016. Probably the last one, actually.

We did the quick react and post-game stuff, and plenty of people already did more serious season reviews elsewhere. I’ll get into that eventually too, with player season recaps, offseason speculation and analysis, draft stuff, maybe even doubling back to this series to do some breakdown style stuff. It’ll come. Today’s about the feels, though.

This is probably the most affected I’ve ever been from the outcome of a sporting event. That’s probably really dumb. Especially since I’m now supposed to, I guess, be more of a journalist than a blogger (“no cheering in the press box” and all), but I can’t help it. This was the most fun I’ve had following a team for an entire season. It’s the most engaged I’ve been with writing. It’s the most engaged I’ve felt with a community of fans (and readers). This year’s Raptors team earned that and rewarded those of us who followed along with a pretty epic first round series. Yeah, they lost, in gut-wrenching fashion, and it’s left me such that all I can do is ramble, but it doesn’t mean the season wasn’t a success. It was, unquestionably, unless you’re still beating the tanking drum (and if you are, you missed out on one hell of a season in the meantime). Fanbase, identity, experience, gains were made in each of those areas, and they could very will be a factor in the future.

For now, though, we hurt, and we appreciate. It was far more fun a year than any of us expected and the Raptors did us no disservice in how they went out. We The North.

  • PΞTΞЯ™

    The team really captured a lot of hearts and i expect next season to be a real exciting one for the city. As long as Lowry resigns, this team has only up to look forward to.

  • Minks77

    I get chills up and down my spine every time I think of or hear the “Let’s Go Rap-Tors” chant. FTW, our boys are here and all I want is October to start winding down already. If I can get hype for a season where 33 wins would be considered lofty then this summer is gonna drive me nuts.


  • Ds

    What would have happened had Lowry sunk that shot?

    • Joshua Chan Zuo Sze

      he couldn’t though, he was blocked. if only casey knew which side of the court we were inbounding >___< our game winners seem to come from broken plays and not from timeouts. ie patman's shot in brooklyn, i'm really not comfortable with casey going forward with no coaching acumen in the final seconds to win us games.

    • we the north

      we would have gotten swept by miami

      • SR

        Haha, it’s true. Another round of experience for the young guys and some more playoff games for the ACC would be fantastic, but in my opinion Miami would spank the Raps. They’re a bit like Brooklyn only with two championships and three straight Finals appearances. Think of how much trouble Joe Johnson (!) gave the Raps, then consider that LeBron James plays the same position in Miami. No other considerations in that match-up come anywhere near the impact-level of the Raps inability to defend LeBron.

        • jjdynomite

          Yeah, but at least we would have gotten to watch the Raptors extend their season for another week or so, as opposed to having to ironically root for King James and the Boshettes to crush Brooklyn. I guess it spares us Zarar’s angry rants.

          I think Masai has learned enough from the past 2 weeks to make an educated decision on Casey… and to throw bucketloads of cash at Kyle and smaller buckets at Vasquez and 2Pat.

  • Toon town fan

    From the unified chorus belting out the national anthem to the chiding of the hated opponents whoroes, chills up and down my spine. Unbelievable, relentless support and encouragement that made me swoon with pride. Best. Crowds. Ever. Memories are the sugar of life. Well done Toronto.

    • Jerry Garcia

      Well Written ! Don’t underestimate the the tsunami of national pride this team created. Canadians who never watched basketball were setting their PVRs. The scene in Maple Leaf Square was over the top inspiring…Well done Canada.

      • Toon town fan

        Cheers pal. Not sure if it’s a tsunami where I’m from, more so a ripple of interest. Baby steps, baby steps. Notice I didn’t slag the puck goon squads. Oops.

  • Nate Huffman

    Demar was trying to recruite Lowry for his Drew League team…

    • KickPuncher

      I like how he’s not at all worried about Lowry being back next season.

  • thatpeterguy

    As much as it stings I can’t think of a more motivational loss for a young up and coming team.

  • mcm1

    It stings and it hurts but they learned more from this loss than if they won. That crowd and the support they gave was awesome. Ironically it was Casey saying attention to detail all season and was he the one that messed it up in the end? Great ride this season. We have come a long way from sonny weems and Jamario moon!

  • jakdripr

    I just hope we come out strong next year, we’ve captured the attention of a lot of people, would suck if we folded next season and fritted back into mediocrity.

    • noname

      as long as we bring back the core guys (vaz, 2pat, lowry, yes all three of them), get rid of salmons, hayes, fields, and novak and hansbrough if we can, and sign quality replacements (whom would hopefully be upgrades), then we will not only repeat the success we’ve had, I think we could have a small chance at 60 wins. Yes it sounds crazy but if it were not for the rudy gay trade being in the middle of the season instead of before it started, we would’ve gotten in the low to mid 50’s in wins. If our guys learn from gaining another year of experience and improve as well as coach casey, and if all the pieces fall together, yes I believe we can break 60 wins. You heard it here first.

      • jakdripr

        You’re probably right, but until next season starts, ill never be able to shake that fear that this might become 06/07 again. Let’s see what Masai does in the off season, that’ll probably help alleviate some of the fears.

        • noname

          yeah, the difference is that our gm right now is a proven guy who at the very least won’t screw us over ROYALLY the way bc did. But the fact that he gives bc a lot of credit kinda worries me.

          • jakdripr

            Well BC was a proven guy until his tenure in Toronto, he did a solid job in Phoenix, never winning a championship but a lot of solid winning years. Still though, the fact that most of our roster is young(and we still have picks) gives me hope for the future.

            Btw, I don’t see anything wrong with him giving BC props, most of this team was assembled by BC, the man didn’t know how to build a team, but he knew how to draft and had an eye for talent. Just wasn’t good at anything else.

            • noname

              Good point. But you still gotta think that Masai>Colangelo. At worst I see Masai signing a few scrubs that don’t do much but he seems like the type that actually owns up to his mistakes, and I still don’t comprehend how he manages to find ways to trade underperforming players on bad contracts and actually get something. I honestly think he could find a way to trade chris smith if he had to deal with him.

  • Ben

    dude this was real good man! sucks RR is done for the year. I had alot of fun reading the articles and stuff. Thanks!


    • DDayLewis

      What? Raptors season might be done, but we here are RR ain’t going anywhere. We’ll have content all the time throughout the summer.

  • Eric

    Long time reader, first time poster: I LOVE your guys’ passion. You guys are all over the latest Raptors news, insights and analysis. But most of all it is apparent that you guys just love this team, just like the rest of us Raps fans. Please keep up the excellent work!!!

  • Truth Teller

    It sucks, but it was a great season. Hopefully the Raptors follow up next year and play even better. I trust Masai.

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