Today has brought back some memories, mostly of last season’s playoff run. There wasn’t a single time I walked to the Air Canada Centre in last year’s playoffs feeling defeated, as if anything was set in stone or inevitable, as if there wasn’t all that much of a point. I still don’t feel quite like that – the Toronto Raptors could still make it a series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and there’d at least be a less bitter taste when the season ultimately ends, plus it would kind of validate the annoying, plucky identity the never-die Raptors have lived by the last four years – but I have no illusions on a proper comeback.
That identity, remember, started with unlikely success of the #WeTheNorth marketing campaign that galvanized the fan base. That they might be about to play the last home game of the series, playoffs, season, and even era in a plain white T-shirt with the original We The North font scribbled on seems fitting. And it brings back memories.
Today is the Goodlife Marathon , for example. A year ago on the day of that event, I went from running the half to covering the Raptors beating the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 to win their first seven-game playoff series ever. (That the plantar fasciitis that plagued me for months afterwards precluded me from participating this year probably explains at least a part of my mood. So, too, does listening to Bring Me the Horizon all morning, for some reason.) On this exact day a year ago, the Raptors went into Miami and took Game 3 off of the Heat. When the Raptors hosted the Cavaliers for Game 4 a little under 52 weeks ago, they were coming off of what felt like an unlikely win at the time, then beat them again to make it a competitive sweep (in front of what was maybe the best Air Canada Centre crowd I’ve ever experienced, by the way).
The Raptors could win here. It won’t matter unless they string at least one more after it. It’ll be called a gentleman’s sweep, or whatever. And that’s fine. The Raptors have shot their shot, and barring something crazy happening, they have missed. They had to shoot it. And in the process, they’ve given four years worth of memories, good ones, ones to build from, and ones that are so much better than the rest of the history of the franchise it’s laughable.
If things end today, that’s probably what I’ll be thinking about as the final seconds tick off. Not coming up short, not falling to the Cavaliers again, not ridiculous offseason schemes that have no basis in reality, and definitely not booing. I mean, do you. But this franchise has built a ton of equity over the few years, and the crowd and fan base have been a big part of that. Players talk it up. Opponents talk it up. LeBron James dapping up the crowd after Game 6 last year is a franchise-defining moment. I’m rambling, but my point is this: The emotion and spirit right now aren’t the same as for Game 6 against Cleveland, but if this is it – for the year, and for this core in general – I’d much rather go out remembering and appreciating the era and attempt to close the gap than being disappointed it didn’t work out.
The game tips off a 3:30 on ABC and TSN on TV and on TSN 1050 on radio. You can check out the full game preview here. Your officials are Scott Foster, Tony Brothers, and Pat Fraher.
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 4, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.
- Game 3 recap, Game 4 preview.
- All of the practice/shootaround news & notes.
- Over at The Athletic, I wrote about the 3-point disparity in this series, which is reaching historic proportions.
- Raptors Republic readers can get a 20-percent discount off of subscriptions.
Kyle Lowry called himself doubtful. Head coach Dwane Casey said “I don’t think he’s gonna go.” We’ll know for sure at game time, but he’s not playing. If he can go, awesome, the Raptors will have a better chance at going out more respectably. If not, you have an idea what the rotation will look like. Cory Joseph starts, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet split the back-up duties, and the Raptors look for somebody else to maybe hit a three. And free Bruno.
UPDATE: Lowry is officially out.
UPDATE II: P.J. Tucker starts for Norman Powell, as suggested as a “shrug” possibility in the pre-game.
PG: Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: Demar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: P.J. Tucker, DeMarre Carrol, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Kyle Lowry
The Cavaliers are completely healthy, so short of a few questions that don’t matter to them until the NBA Finals, anyway, this is straight-forward. Maybe they’ll activate Edy Tavares and let him get some run.
PG: Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams, Kay Felder
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Dahntay Jones
SF: LeBron James, Kyle Korver, Richard Jefferson
PF: Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, James Jones
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Edy Tavares
Pre-game news and notes
- Dwane Casey was asked what was said to the team before the game to rally them up for this one. “I’m gonna keep those in the locker room.”
- Part of it appeared to be revealed in this quote: “We’ve been punched and hit, we just gotta get our mojo back.”
- Casey once again talked up the need for more threes. “If you miss 15, shoot 15 more,” Casey said. The team was 2-of-18 last game. They have to get more up to keep up, and they have to, you know, hope they hit more than 11 percent. “They’ve got the green light,” he said.
- To those who were trying to postmortem already, Casey bristled at the idea that the Raptors have “unraveled” or failed, pointing out that they’re still a good team among the final eight in the league, they just fell (or will probably fall, I guess) short of their ultimate goal. Perspective, guys.
- It took forever for anyone to ask Tyronn Lue a question, and when someone finally did, Lue let out a “Damn!”
- “Just another game we gotta be prepared for,” Lue said of Cleveland’s approach today, downplaying the fact that a sweep is on the line.
- He also declined to answer about tweaks to the second unit, like Tristan Thompson playing with the LeBron James-and-bench unit at the top of the second and fourth quarters.
- The fact that Kyle Lowry may have played his last game as a Raptor is kind of depressing.
- I’ve been posting some pics and quotes and other things to my Instagram story. Follow along there.
- Related, here are the shirts for Game 4:
Game 4 shirts pic.twitter.com/Xs87iYMFE4
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) May 7, 2017
The lineGame 1: Cavaliers -6.5 (Series Raptors +375) (Cavaliers 116, Raptors 105)
Game 2: Cavaliers -7 (Series Raptors +650) (Cavaliers 125, Raptors 103)
Game 3: Cavaliers -3.5 (Series Raptors +1500) (Cavaliers 115, Raptors 94)
Game 4: Cavaliers -6.5
Series: Off the board (implied probability of extremely little)
The market is more or less calling this one a wrap. The series is off the board entirely, because bookmakers don’t want to waste their time with incredibly long-shot bets and the Cavaliers are heavier favorites than Game 3, likely because of Lowry’s status changing from questionable to “probably doubtful.” We’ve come a long way when the line in Toronto is the same as it opened in Cleveland, normally good for a six-to-seven point swing. The over-under is at 212.