The Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets are no stranger to each other in the playoffs.
Back when the Nets were in New Jersey, former Raptor Vince Carter beat his former team twice in the 2000s.
In 2014, the last time the Raptors and Nets squared off in the playoffs, the Nets won in a tough seven-game series. With Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry missing at the buzzer.
The Raptors are a different franchise now as they prepare to face the Nets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs than they were six years ago. What former Nets player Paul Pierce deemed lacking the “it” factor, the Raptors made up for it in the form of an NBA Championship five years later.
Raptors-Nets first round schedule 👇🏾 pic.twitter.com/LeOAYvp78q
— Kayla Grey (@Kayla_Grey) August 13, 2020
Heartbreaking Game 7 losses hurt. But they build character and fortitude, both qualities that permeate the Raptors organization in its current form.
“What we’ve talked about a lot during the year is probably a lot of people didn’t expect us to have this kind of season,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters on Saturday via Zoom. “There was a lot of resiliency considering we had a lot of injuries, too. Just a good kind of top-to-bottom effort by the crew for certainly the first 60-plus games, and then to regather and keep it rolling once we got here. It’s good. It’s a joy to be around this team.”
The 2013-14 season was a transformative year for the Raptors. After going 6-12, Raptors President Masai Ujiri traded Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray to the Sacramento Kings, most notably getting in return Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez.
The Raptors went on a 10-3 run post-trade, en route to a 48-34 season that saw them make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
What made this season special wasn’t just the emergence of Lowry or Demar DeRozan. It was the culture shift towards the Raptors in Toronto and across Canada.
“We The North” became more than just a marketing campaign but rather a transformative mantra that Raptors fans believed every single time they attended a game in person or cheered in Jurassic Park.
“F**k Brooklyn” Ujiri exclaimed before Game 1 of the Raptors and Nets series.
The Northern Uprising was born.
The Nets were the better team in 2013-14, with seasoned veterans like Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Raptors, however, were no pushover.
DeRozan had back-to-back 30-point games. Lowry had a series-high 36 points in Game 5 to give the Raptors a 3-2 series lead.
Despite losing the series in seven games, the Raptors showed grit and toughness for a young team without a lot of playoff experience.
The series against the Nets began a playoff streak that still exists after the Raptors finished the 2019-20 season with the second-best record in the NBA.
The @Raptors wrap up the 2019/20 regular season with the BEST WINNING PERCENTAGE in franchise history! 🔥
— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) August 14, 2020
Lowry is the only Raptor that remains from that 2013-14 team and his leadership and championship pedigree rubs off on the younger players.
“Early on, Kyle would take us out for dinners,” Raptors rookie Terence Davis said on Saturday. “Since then, it’s been a brotherhood. In a team, you always need that family. It’s going to take us a long way.”
It took Ujiri’s boldness in the 2018-19 offseason to trade a franchise cornerstone in DeRozan for a superstar in Kawhi Leonard. The gamble paid off in the form of a championship.
Now, as the roles reverse and the Raptors are the seasoned team taking on an inexperienced Nets squad, it’s hard not to reflect on the growth this organization experienced.
The painful loss in Game 7 against the Nets is all a blur for a Raptors team eager and hungry to defend their inaugural NBA title.