Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)
May 04 2014 08:01PM
The Toronto Raptors were eliminated from the NBA Playoffs in a Game 7 heartbreaker this afternoon. It's nothing we haven't seen lately; the only thing that really changed was the sport. So, for those of you who may have cared about the Leafs... *looks at calendar* a year ago in about a week, here are some thoughts.
First off, the coincidences are real. Both the 2013 Leafs and the 2014 Raptors exceeded expectations. Leafs fans were uncertain if the team was significantly better than the 2011/12 team, and thanks to a lockout, weren't even sure if they'd see them at all. The Raptors? Forget "We The North", the season started with "Tank For Wiggins!". Yet both teams snapped playoff droughts.
Both bowed out in Game 7 of the first round. To divisional rivals. Whose city names are bookended by the same letters. Swap "Original Six" for "Associated with someone n ominated for Rap Album of the Year" and you have your extra angle. Both Game 7's had everybody's hopes up higher than they had been all season, until a sudden crushing at the end.
But besides that...
- The people of Toronto have made a massive statement at Maple Leaf Square over the past two springs. This year even more so than last. Rather than merely confirming that a big fanbase was big, the Raptors fans surprised a lot of people in showing that they were there. What was shown is that this is a sports city that is willing to support their teams, but needs to have something to be excited about. It doesn't have to be an elite team; that doesn't describe either of the two, but a glimmer of hope and positive expectation goes a long way.
- Continuing that point. Remember when players didn't want to come to Toronto because it was in Canada? Well, those crowds will make a difference in that moving forward.
- Heartbreak can build a team. From my understanding (I'm not going to lie to you and say I'm follow the Raptors enough to have a truly informed opinion), this is a relatively young team with almost the entire core signed for next season. Kyle Lowry needs a contract, but after that, you have a set group of guys who appear to be improving and have room to grow. If you're keeping a core like this, losing a by one point in Game 7 is probably going to make them more "hungry" than say, losing in 5 to Miami in Round 2.
- You're probably going to remember that last play for a very, very long time. Any Leafs fan can re-enact the entirety of "Game 7" starting Kadri to Kessel and ending at Bergeron's OT winner. Joffrey Lupul said that it will haunt him for the rest of his life. Lowry getting blocked may be that moment for Raptors fans.
- That said, the team itself has to not react too negatively to that loss, from the players all the way up to top management. Many will argue that the Leafs would have been in better shape if they lost in 5 rather than 7, just because it made the team seem "OH SO CLOSE" as Boston continued to advance. You'd think this would lead to "lets just try again", but the Leafs felt they needed to fix a mental breakdown that wasn't there. Treat it like a series loss and not a "if only this one play..." moment.
- If you're new to following this team, stay vocal. Not just next year, right now. Because while they certainly don't need to "shake up" anything, a big free agent would be nice, and Toronto FC has shown what this ownership group can do with a manipulatable salary cap structure if Tim Leiweke thinks the fans want it enough.
- Thank Based God that there aren't any notable basketball players from Mimico. Hell, if they stick to Toronto, you're basically stuck acquiring top end prospects, so a location-based panic may not be so bad in this sport.
- From a Leafs standpoint, I'm hoping the way the Raptors beat the odds this year leads to more effort put into analytics. In case you didn't know, the Raptors are really big into it.
- From a pure fan perspective, take a few days off of sports. Having your heart broken after a loss of this severity will only lead to disgust if you go and try to get yourself immediately involved in anything.
- But after that, there's still plenty of Toronto teams due for supporting. TFC aren't world beaters, but look better than they ever have. The Marlies start Round 2 of the AHL playoffs on Friday. The Rock are still the pretty good team in this city that everybody ignores. The Jays... still have pretty jerseys? In an event, support your city if you can.
- If Drake doesn't release the saddest Basketball song of all time, I'm going to be disappointed.