Despite having a 15 point lead at halftime, the Raptors lost to the Cavs last night 132-129. It’s not just that they lost, but the fashion in which they lost that should be of some concern. More so, the loss does nothing to help the Raptors in dealing with their psychological demons where LeBron James is concerned.
Just as we shouldn’t be overly excited by the Raptors’ win over The Houston Rockets last week, we shouldn’t feel overly discouraged by last night’s loss either. Although the Raptors are having an historic season, the elephant in the locker room remains… can you beat a LeBron James led team in a 7 game series?
HAVE WE SEEN THIS STORY BEFORE?
The Raptors’ annual woes with the Cavs/LeBron strikes an eerie similarity (at least to me) to the Chicago Bulls‘ (late 80’s / early 90’s) struggles with the Detroit Pistons. Only, this was a reverse scenario; where the Bull’s had the best player on earth; a one man wrecking crew in Michael Jordan; the Pistons employed a team effort/philosophy that overcame Jordan’s heroics. They were so successful keeping Jordan at bay, it spurred a book called The Jordan Rules. The “Bad Boys” of Detroit had the psychological edge. Things had to change if Jordan and the Bulls were going to defeat their nemesis; and change they did! Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant emerged as stars, the role players got better and Phil Jackson employed a new offensive system (Tex Winter’s triangle offence). BTW, Jordan was resistant to the new offence, much like DeRozan and Lowry were with the Raps’ new offence this year. With the changes in place and Jordan putting more trust in his teammates, the Bulls finally overcame the Pistons in a dramatic sweep, and never looked back.
Could this be the year the Raptors get that psychological monkey off their back? The similarities are there. The Raptors have changed their offensive sets, emphasizing more ball movement, Lowry is taking less shots and DeMar, more threes. This is DeRozan and Lowry’s first full year with Serge Ibaka; and they are trusting much more in their teammates (especially, the bench led by Fred VanVleet). Last night’s game is just one game. A regular season loss, that won’t change anything in the standings. The silver lining from last night’s loss is that C.J. Miles was not available due to illness. The bench is not the bench we’ve come to know and love without C.J. Miles. If you’re down by three with a few seconds, you want Miles on the floor. If you’re in the midst of an offensive slump during the game, you want Miles on the floor.
Until the Raptors meet and defeat LeBron James and ( place-team-name-here ) in the playoffs, the potential for mind games and self doubt will continue. This year’s iteration of the Raptors does feel, and is, different in many ways and the statistics still back the Raptors as the team to come of the east. The questions remaining can only be answered by a 7 game series. Is it LeBron James or is it themselves, that’s in the way? Probably both. If the Raptors shed that “monkey” off their back and get to the NBA Final with their minds freed, anything is possible.
(BTW, I know it sounds like an excuse but really, C.J. Miles is a huge part of why the Raptors bench has been as good as it’s been. I sort of like that the Cavs didn’t get our best line up, unfortunately the Raptors didn’t see Cleveland’s best line up either.)