The Big Picture

Sunday afternoon’s game 7 loss to the Nets is going to take some time to recover from. The franchise and its fans were so close to their second appearance in the NBA’s second round only to have it slip away in the final seconds of game 7. Over the next few days, weeks and months fans will look back and think about how one call, a couple free throws, a bounce here or there could have made the difference in deciding this series.

When the anger and sadness subside fans should focus on the positives that developed and on the road ahead. This team has a lot to look forward too and the next few months will be important ones in deciding where the team goes next.

While the outcome of this first round series wasn’t what anybody was hoping for, the young Raptors seem more ready and more determined than ever to get back to playoff basketball. Next time they’ll be ready too.

The 2014 playoffs and the ups and downs experienced by the Raptors young core will go a long way toward shaping the future of this franchise. Many positives presented themselves in this series.

DeMar DeRozan, arguably the team’s biggest star had his playoff coming out party. After years of missing the playoffs with the raps he finally made it to the postseason and did not disappoint. The All-Star got to the line, scored in bunches and put the team on his back numerous times. He was a fairly consistent threat and learned to adjust to the tight defensive style of basketball most teams use in the playoffs. He looked confident, he looked comfortable. Coming into this series there was serious concern about how DeRozan would adjust to playoff style basketball, but he looked right at home. The young star is now likely licking his chops for another chance. That’s exactly what the team wants.

Kyle Lowry solidified himself as the heart and soul of the Toronto Raptors. Going into the offseason it was already very likely that the organization would try to convince Lowry to stay long-term, but after his playoff performance it is now a certainty that Lowry will be asked to come back. Tim Leiweke, Masai Ujiri and MLSE are going to break the bank to keep him in town. Fans want him back, the players want him back and the organization now has little choice. The choice will be his.

For young players like Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson this experience was critical for their development going forward. All three players are set to be large parts of the Raptors future and all three got big minutes in this series. Amir and Jonas had occasional moments of brilliance and at times were the best players on the court. Jonas struggled in game 7, but overall he had a good series and gained the experience of matching up against the leagues elite. It is important for fans to focus on his game 1 success rather than his game 7 issues. He will need to learn to stay on the floor early on. He needs to control those fouls.

Terrence Ross had a rough series. His shot wasn’t falling, he was having trouble all series guarding Johnson and Pierce. He looked lost. Game 7 was his best performance. He looked more confident and his defensive play at the end of the fourth quarter gave the Raptors a chance to tie the game. He will get better. This series was a great learning experience for this team and his struggles will likely serve as a chip on his shoulder next year. He is going to want to get back into the playoffs to redeem himself.

The young Raptors were not supposed to make the playoffs this year. The original plan in the minds of most was to tank the season in hopes of landing Canadian college superstar Andrew Wiggins. Kyle Lowry was supposed to be a Knick. Yet after all that the team was able to hold on for the Atlantic Division title and take the veteran Nets to the limit.

It must also be said that the Raptors would have likely been quick fodder for the Miami Heat, as Brooklyn now looks to be. The Raptors season ended on a last second drive that fell just short, it could have ended in a second round sweep. The optics of losing a close series in round one are better than getting pummeled in round 2. The loss, in a weird way, may have ensured a more positive outlook to the season for the team and its fans. A crushing loss to the Heat in round two could have killed the confidence and momentum this team built during the regular season and first round. Instead fighting their way back from certain defeat in game 7 and giving themselves a chance to win the series on the last play of the game left the team and its fans feeling very positive about the future and how close they are to contention.

This season was a great success. The team learned to play together, Dwane Casey emerged as a strong reliable coach and young players stepped up. The young core of the Raptors is now in place and the team has this shared experience to draw on in the future. One they can all look back on together and spend the next year working to improve on.

Much like Vince Carter and the Raptors of 2001 were after their first playoff loss, the Raptors of 2014 are a team on the rise. With the right moves this off-season and hopefully the re-signing of a few key free agents this version of the raptors can surpass the success of their predecessors.

The young Raptors and "Jurassic Park" showed the NBA that Toronto is an NBA city to be reckoned with.  The team certainly seems to be headed in the right direction.

The young Raptors and “Jurassic Park” showed the NBA that Toronto is an NBA city to be reckoned with. The team certainly seems to be headed in the right direction.

While it’s easy to think of what could have been, the overall experience of being in the playoffs can only have positive results. These young players now know what it takes to win playoff games and they will all be better prepared next time they get there. The fans are now more hungry than ever for playoff basketball. “Jurasic Park” was the place to be during the first round. It was the talk of the NBA, mentioned on many broadcasts on both sides of the border and provided the Raptors with a definitive home court advantage.

Management now knows that it is time to take advantage of this new-found basketball frenzy and strike while the iron is hot. With a core consisting of DeRozan, Lowry and Valanciunas that has yet to hit its ceiling the organization can now afford to take its time to build the right way. Though it is likely that there will be some change in the roster, the plan has to be to keep these three together.

Fans in Toronto have legitimate reason to look forward. This team is young, talented and ready to strike in an Eastern Conference that is right for the taking.

The hurt we all felt on Sunday was real and it was deep, but there is every reason to believe there will be brighter days ahead. This is a team on the rise, now everyone knows it.

***

Kristoffer Pedlar
The Zan Tabak Herald

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