Kyle Lowry pulled down the curved brim of his beige cap with his two hands. You never see his eyes. He didn’t want you to. His eyes might reveal something that his mouth wasn’t ready for, so he kept them in the shadows, hidden from our judgment.
His Toronto Raptors had just been eliminated from the NBA Playoffs, again, for the third straight year, by the Cleveland Cavaliers. These were really, really dark times.
Lowry’s teammate DeMar DeRozan, in a black, flat-brimmed cap, sat beside him at the postgame podium, addressing questions from the media—or rather, dodging them with carefully-worded quotables. DeRozan was asked, painfully, about Toronto’s failed attempts to dethrone LeBron James. He was asked, perhaps unnecessarily, about George Hill’s impact on Cleveland and on the series (Hill averaged 10 ppg and 3 apg). It’s like losing your house to massive flooding, then being asked later, “How about that rain, huh?”
Good thing he was also asked about his feelings. Because when you crash down to earth in practically the same tragic fashion for three straight years, we have to talk about feelings.
“I always take accountability on my end, how I play individually, as a leader, every step of the way,” DeRozan said.
On the Raptors’ final and most important two games in the playoffs, DeRozan was invisible: benched in the fourth quarter of Game 3 and ejected in the third quarter of Game 4. He did what can only be described as the Reverse Playoff Rondo. But even then, no Raptor was thrown under the bus.
As DeRozan put on his best effort to give diplomatic answers—bobbing and weaving his way out just to survive the 7-minute press briefing—Lowry sat quietly, his cap sinking lower and lower with every passing minute. By the third question, Lowry was slumped on his seat, his arms crossed, the brim of his cap now casting a bigger shadow on his face.
When a question was thrown his way (“Was the loss frustrating or [was it] the way you lost, getting blown out as badly as you did?”), Lowry gave an obligatory, and almost incoherent, response.
“The loss…I mean, both. It’s all frustrating, you know what I mean? It’s just kind of one and both, they’re kind of the same thing right now,” he said, his deep and dejected voice trailing off. “We lost, so it’s frustrating either way.”
Lowry mentally checked out after that and DeRozan continued to do all the talking, like a parent at the principal’s office speaking for his son. DeRozan talked about LeBron being a team player. He talked about missed opportunities. He talked about reevaluating himself from top to bottom.
“If it don’t kill you, it you makes you stronger,” DeRozan said to reporters, perhaps also to the sulking teammate beside him, and maybe, also to himself.
Two years ago, Lowry and DeRozan were in a similar setting but in different circumstances. They were also seated next to each other in the podium as they talked up a storm about their Game 4 win against the Cavs to tie the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.
The mood was light and promising then. Lowry laughed a couple of times. DeRozan had his daughter, Diar, on his lap. They didn’t use caps to cover their eyes. This happened on May 23, 2016, the last time the Raptors won against the Cavs in the playoffs.
The main difference then was that the Raptors were happy. And their reasons to be such were legit: they were two wins away from their first-ever NBA Finals appearance; they had just hosted the All-Star Game that year; Drake just dropped Views.
Little did they know, that was peak Raptors, and it was all downhill from there. They proceeded to lose 10 consecutive playoff games in three different playoff series against LeBron and the Cavs, each loss stamped with a very disrespectful but also very accurate Barney meme.
The disrespect towards the Raptors, a team that won a conference-high 59 games in the 2017-2018 season, was in full show in the fourth quarter of Game 4. The clock said 7:38 left before another demoralizing playoff exit, the scoreboard said 110-80, and the speakers in Cleveland blasted Drake’s “God’s Plan.”
It’s a lot of bad things
That they wishing and wishing and wishing and wishing
They wishing on me
The bad things always seem to happen to the Raptors at the worst possible time. In Game 1, at home, they appeared to have control of the game, looking every bit like the top seed that they were. That was up until the biggest moment, with the scored tied 105-105, when the Raptors missed about 20 potential winning shots (it was five, actually, but multiply that by four and that’s how Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas must’ve felt).
Valanciunas, after realizing what had just happened, put both his hands on his face in shame or embarrassment or remorse or anger. The weight of the missed opportunity literally made the 7-foot, 250-pound Lithuanian collapse backwards for a split second then fall forward to his knees, as if someone had just whispered to his ear, “Bruh, you will never be thiiiis close to beating the Cavs ever again.”
The only consolation is that the Raptors are not the doormat of the NBA, only LeBron’s. They have two All-Stars in Lowry and DeRozan. OG Anunoby will be amazing. Fred VanVleet has the balls to take (and miss) the big shots (he’ll make them next time).
But after back-to-back sweeps, the questions linger: Will they ever get another chance at beating LeBron? Or are the Raptors-Cavs playoff meetings mere plot points in The King’s quest for GOAT-ness?
Battling greatness is heavy stuff. The Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, and Indiana Pacers teams that fell to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 90s would know. This Raptors team should also be remembered as one of those teams, the unsuccessful ones who dared to ask, “Why not us?” and, unfortunately, made it long enough to know the answer.
Lowry and DeRozan at that postgame exercise was painful to watch. Despite all the positivity in DeRozan’s words, there’s an underlying ominous tone. It didn’t quite feel like death yet, but there are things worse than death. As the Cavs brushed off the Raptors for the third straight year, it felt like the promise that the Raptors are the team that could end LeBron’s reign in the East was nothing but a lie. Or, as titas would call it: fake news.
To begin the healing process, the Raptors started with the firing of Coach of the Year candidate Dwane Casey. More has to be done in the long road to recovery, because unless a 6-foot-8, 250-pound bully from Akron stays in the East, the Raptors, as capable as they are, may find themselves in a vicious loop of heartbreak.
“It’s life. If you dwell on what should’ve happened, what could’ve happened in life, you’ll drive yourself crazy,” DeRozan said. “Fact of the matter is, we out, we done. We gotta get back to reality and work our butt off this summer and get ready for the next stage.”
As soon as the excruciating postgame interview ended, Lowry and DeRozan stood up at the same time, both eager to move on from the pain and fade away into yet another long summer, no different from the last.