The Toronto Raptors season came to a screeching halt on Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena in a blowout 132-97 loss.
Even though they trailed the series 3-0, back-to-back wins in Games 4 & 5 gave fans hope that the team would be able to accomplish the impossible, but the climb proved to be to steep.
The loss is disappointing, especially considering it came to a now-fierce rival in the Philadelphia 76ers. Led by Joel Embiid and recent playoff drama, it’s become very apparent that these two teams and fanbases particularly are not fond of each other, and so this elimination is certainly tough to swallow.
Still, the team deserves a lot of credit for even taking it to a Game 6. Only 14 teams in NBA history have forced six games after falling behind 3-0, and it would’ve been incredibly easy for the Raptors to just mail it in and start booking the flights to Cancun. The one guarantee with this Toronto team under Nick Nurse is that you’re going to get effort, and that’s exactly what they provided, the skill and talent on the other side was just too much to overcome.
The Raptors were a trendy upset pick sure, but the reality is that the two organizations are in very different places. This season is a complete failure for Philadelphia if they don’t reach the Conference Finals, whereas no one even expected the Raptors to make the playoffs.
Luckily for Raptors fans this team has been resilient all season long, it didn’t just start in this series. After a disastrous season in Tampa Bay last year where they essentially were forced to play 82 away games, the Raps had to return home and deal with a plethora of injuries and Covid-19-related absences right off the bat. They were unable to field consistent starting lineups and had the worst bench depth in the NBA, and yet they were able to keep things afloat, never dropping below a record of 11-14 and eventually evening out at 23-23 before going on a big winning streak. Once the team was actually healthy, they quickly proved that they were better than many thought. Vegas predicted the Raptors win total this season to be 34.5, a disrespectful number that was easily eclipsed. At 48-34 and the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference, this team overachieved and was one of the most fun Raptors teams to watch in the past decade. They had no expectations and could play freely, and that’s exactly what they did.
Things look promising on a player-to-player basis as well. Despite some inconsistencies which can be partially chalked to injury, Fred VanVleet had a great year and made his first all-star appearance. Gary Trent Jr. had a fantastic season where he continued to evolve, and is one of the Raptors most untouchable pieces at 23 years old. OG Anunoby was brilliant when he was on the court, but once again injuries were an issue. If he can stay healthy the sky is the limit for him, but he’s going to have to prove he can do that. Scottie Barnes’ season speaks for itself, he’s the Rookie of the Year and has the potential to be one of, if not the best Raptors of all time one day. It’s early, but that’s how good this kid is. Precious Achiuwa looked outstanding down the stretch and he’s only 22 years old, Canadian Chris Boucher (unrestricted free agent) had a rough start, but looked great near the end of the season and into the playoffs.
There’s a lot of positives to take from the players, and the even better news is the positives you can take from the front office. You hear it all across the league: “the Raptors have one of the best front offices in the association”, and nothing will change on that front. With Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster still at the reigns, this Raptors rebuild will likely continue on the fast track. Nothing is off limits for this front office, including a blockbuster move in the summer. Would anyone be surprised?
Sure, the ending was disappointing, but after the disappointment that 2020-2021 was, it’s nice to say that Toronto Raptors basketball is fun again. With another year of development for this young roster and another offseason for Masai and Bobby to work their magic, Raptors fans should be thrilled for what’s to come next season, and pleased with the fight this current edition of the team showed all year long.