Title: The Raptors Have a Legit Shot at Dethroning LeBron and the Cavaliers
Date: April 30, 2018
Original Source: Vice
Synopsis: In my latest for Vice, I wrote about why the Toronto Raptors feel this time could be different against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Toronto Raptors are about to step on the Eastern Conference’s most defining scale for a third postseason in a row, drawing LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for a best-of-seven series. For seven consecutive seasons and the bulk of his entire career, the East has run through James, the most singularly dominant basketball player of his generation. The Raptors have made it here twice and fallen short each time, first in a spirited upstart-just-isn’t-ready-yet six-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals and then in a demoralizing and, it appeared at the time, potentially franchise-altering sweep in the second round.
If the tone is different this time around, it is because of that sweep. On the day after, Raptors president Masai Ujiri began a search for answers by suggesting a “culture reset,” a fundamental shift in the way the Raptors would approach the postseason, approach the Cavaliers, and approach basketball in the modern era in general was set to take place. Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, and P.J. Tucker were out, C.J. Miles was in, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry would need to be different—not better, but stars through a different definition—and a wealth of opportunity and responsibility would be shifted en masse to the team’s young, unproven core.
These Raptors were different, and that’s not just narrative. Their 3-point rate spiked. They were the only team to finish the season in the top five at both ends of the floor. Lowry’s minutes came way down to keep him fresh. DeRozan continued to redefine himself, his game, and his ceiling. That unproven young core became an unexpected starting lineup stalwart and the best bench in the league. They won 59 games, and by any analytic were one of the three best teams in basketball.
As for whether all this time spent resetting and rebuilding and redefining has the Raptors in a better position to beat the Cavaliers this time around?
“No question. I feel it,” DeRozan said Sunday. “We all have that confidence in ourselves.”