Nobody believed it could happen. Not the analysts, not the fans, maybe not even the players.
An improvement over last year's dismal performance was guaranteed (how could it have possibly gotten worse?), but to ride into the postseason with the Atlantic crown?
Whatchu talkin' 'bout Willis?
Well, it happened. The Raptors defied the odds, bringing together a rowdy band of foreigners, the diminutive T.J. Ford, and Sam "I Can't Believe I Still Have a Job" Mitchell. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the story, let's give credit where it's due:
1) Chris Bosh
The lanky big man really came into his own, averaging career highs and establishing himself as a franchise player. A deadly midrange shot made him unstoppable from anywhere on the court.
2) Anthony Parker
The two-time Euroleague MVP proved that he could play with the best of 'em. The fact that this man went so long under the NBA radar is a sin against the basketball gods.
3) Bryan Colangelo
Colangelo took last year's squad and went Dr. Frankenstein on it, piecing together a unit with players from around the globe. Some thought he was mad, some thought he was simply stupid—but he knew exactly what he was doing: building a good basketball team. And it really is a team. Bosh is the star, but his supporting cast—including Andrea Bargnani, Jorge Garbajosa, and Jose Calderon—carries more than its share of the load. You did good, Colangelo. You did good.
But enough of the plaudits. The Raptors were the Cinderella story of the 2006-2007 NBA season, overcoming a horrible start to emerge as one of the premier teams in the East (which isn't saying much, but I digress). Going into the playoffs, spirits in Toronto were high, and fans were ready to live out the rest of the fairytale.
But that was before the wicked stepmother (Vince Carter) and her two evil daughters (Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson) showed up and ruined the ball.
And I think it all started with the sea of red at the Air Canada Centre.
Whoever handled the marketing for Game One should be fired. The New Jersey Nets marched out of the tunnel in front of over 19,000 Torontonians—all of them wearing New Jersey colors. It was awkward and it was embarrassing...and it certainly didn't keep Jefferson from stealing the show.
Although the game wasn't a rout, the momentum was with the Nets all the way. The Raptors came out playing on pure adrenaline and forgot what had made them such a solid team. The result: Nets 1, Raptors 0.
Toronto won the second game, but it was painful to watch. 14-12 Toronto at the end of the first quarter? The Raptors didn't win because they played better than they had in the first game—they won because New Jersey played much worse. The Raptors showed flashes of their regular-season selves in the fourth quarter...but those flashes, in the end, turned out to be just flashes.
Games 3 and 4—what can I say that hasn't been said? The Raptors had their asses handed to them on every front. Bosh disappeared. Parker was manhandled by Carter. The team as whole looked like a group of 10-year-olds just learning to shoot. As for the Nets: You know you're in trouble when Jason Kidd suddenly becomes a three-point specialist.
The Raptors held off the Nets in Game Five, but they're still all but done. A team coming back from a 3-1 deficit is a rare occurrence, one that this young Toronto club doesn't have the experience to achieve. Then again, they did pull off a miracle in the regular season...but unless Bosh becomes proficient in the Heimlich between now and Friday, expect Game Six to be the club's swan song.