Down 3-0 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors sound like a team that knows history and inevitability are against them. No team has ever come back from this deficit, the Raptors haven’t looked particularly close to stealing one from the favorites and reigning champions, and Saturday’s practice session had the feeling of a wake more than a pep rally.
What can you really do about LeBron?
Here’s a pretty telling quote from Kyle Lowry to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical:
They’ve got LeBron James. Nobody’s closing the gap on him. I mean, that’s it right there: They’ve got LeBron James and nobody’s closing the gap on him…LeBron ain’t breaking spirits here, but he’s just that good. He’s a dominant player, one of the top five most dominant players in basketball history.
On Saturday, he continued:
They’re the champs. He’s unbelievable. He’s a great player. He’s doing what his team needs for him to do. They’re the defending champs for a reason. He’s just been on another level, and he’s just raised his game. I know I’m not a LeBron, and DeMar’s not a LeBron. We push our team, and do what we need to do to get our team wins, and we’ve just got to get better. Some how, some way.
What Lowry is saying isn’t wrong, and while the Raptors have done well to take their best shot at catching up, the inevitability of James has hung over not just the series but the entire season. There’s value in trying, and the Raptors have done exactly that. That’s the plan for Game 4, as well, whatever the likelihood of a comeback.
“We’re just going to show what we’re made from,” Lowry said at practice. “Are we going to come in and give up or are we going to come in and fight? Doesn’t matter if we win or lose, we just need to come here and fight, leave everything on the court.”
Lowry talked up that winning a championship is all that matters, and while it’s unfortunate that James exists at the same time the Raptors have become as good as they have, the team wouldn’t want to simply avoid the challenge.
“That’s a challenge that you look forward to every single year,” DeMar DeRozan said. “Especially being in the Eastern Conference, I guarantee every team’s thought process is ‘let’s figure out a way to get past LeBron and you can play for a title.’ It’s a challenge that as competitors, you wanna be in these moments and measure yourself and be able to compete and see. It’s tough, it’s extremely tough, but I wouldn’t wanna go against nobody else to make it easier.”
That’s the right attitude to take, and really the only one teams can take unless they can swallow blowing things up and kicking their potential success down the line. That’s a question for after the series, of course, as it pertains to these Raptors. And while Saturday really had the feeling of a pre-postmortem, the Raptors are trying not to think that way just yet.
“As long as you understand that you have an opportunity, you can focus in on that,” DeRozan said. “Whatever comes after that, then you dwell on whatever comes after that. As long as you have an opportunity, you good.”
Then again, the writing is more or less on the wall with a deficit no team has ever come back from and…
Lowry doubtful for Game 4
After receiving treatment once again, Lowry spoke about what went in to his decision to ultimately sit out Game 3 on Friday. Lowry tried like hell to be able to go, but his sprained left ankle simply wouldn’t co-operate. Worst of all, he may have made things worse by trying so hard to suit up.
“It was close,” he said. “I mean, I was going to try, but I think I made it a little bit worse by trying to work out a few times, aggravated it a little more, trying to get out there and turn and jump and run. So it’s a little bit more sore today.”
As for Lowry’s status for what could be the last game of the series, the season, and maybe even his Raptors tenure, Lowry is going to do what he can but it doesn’t sound good.
“I’m probably doubtful,” he said. “Hopefully some things change, but right now, I don’t think I’ll be able to play…I’ve got more than 24 hours left to try to get ready to go play, but right now, it’s not looking great. But I’m not giving up on it”
It seems likely that Lowry will once again be a game-time decision, and with no shootaround due to Sunday’s early tip, his status will probably be a mystery until close to tip-off once again. The Raptors will prepare as if they won’t have him and try to encourage themselves with the 36 minutes of solid performance they turned in Friday that they can pull off an upset. Extending the series, though, would be a lot more realistic if Lowry can give them something.
“We were at 15-7 without Kyle and believe me I would take that to the bank,” Casey said, although that stretch was not nearly as impressive as the record would indicate. “We would love to have him. I hope he is able to go tomorrow but if he is not it’s a great opportunity for Cory to step in and play. I thought we played well for three quarters last night. If you have him is it going to be a different story? We don’t know. But we would much rather have him because he is the hub of our toughness, energy, all of the above. We are a better team with him.”
It would be disappointing for the Raptors’ last best shot to not include one of their stars, especially ahead of some very serious questions this offseason. Even if the series outcome is almost entirely determined, the Raptors giving it the same kind of resilient push that’s defined this core’s entire era would seem fitting.
- Here’s Lowry on what-ifs: “I think a lot of things would have been different if I didn’t unfortunately have a freak injury to my wrist, bones get caught in between the joints, Norm lands on my ankle. Things happen. It just sucks when things happen like that.”
- DeRozan has less time for thinking that way: “I never really dwell on it. I always take what we’re given. You have to. You can’t dwell on this person was hurt, this that…That’s one of my biggest pet peeves, is the what ifs. What if I hit the lottery? The whole dynamic of life would change if you just really played off the what-if all the time. I try never to think about it that way.”
- And here’s Casey on the late-season changes and lack of familiarity late: “That’s the challenge. But I love having Serge and Tuck on our team. Getting that chemistry, the timing, the nuances of a team like that is a challenge. It’s a good challenge. I’d much rather have that challenge than not to have ‘em.”
- DeRozan and Lowry were both asked about the offseason and roundabout ways. Lowry declined to answer, as he’s been adamant about all season. DeRozan, like Lowry last year, isn’t going to comment much, either: “If I thought about it, if I didn’t, it wouldn’t make a difference. I still gotta play the waiting game and see what happens. I just never dwell on it. I understand whatever happens, happens, whatever’s gonna come, is gonna come. I always been that way, you know, forever.”
- Casey was asked about the team’s proximity to the Cavaliers and offered an endorsement to try again with this group: “It’s hard to say. I like our team, it’s the most talented team we’ve had…How close are we to Cleveland – if, when — it’s hard to say. If is a huge world in that situation because this group hasn’t had a training camp or time together to go against him. But I like this group, we have the right pieces in place.“
- A hilarious quote from Tyronn Lue over at Cavs’ practice, when asked if the team is now defending in a way that makes a championship repeat a possibility: “Even when we weren’t defending I thought we could win a championship.”
- I’ve been posting some pics and quotes and other things to my Instagram story. Follow along there, too, I guess.