Game 7: Is it the biggest yet?
It feels like pretty much every game since game three of this Raptors Sixers series has been given the “biggest game in franchise history” title. And I get it. A loss in any of these “pivotal” games could turn into a series loss which, in most people’s eyes, equals Kawhi Leonard packing up his Canada Goose and finding the first flight to LA. And who knows? Maybe that’s exactly what would happen. With a loss, this finals contending team would leave yet another season in disappointing fashion. There has never been a Raptors team with this much top end talent. For real. We have a top three (probably top two) player in the league at this very moment. When is that ever going to happen again? It hadn’t happened in the franchises first two decades so more likely than not, it doesn’t happen for a very long time.
I won’t hold anything against you if you say this game is the most important game. Life is focused on the idea of firsts. Your first kiss, your first paycheck, your child’s first words. The firsts are the moments you cherish or detest forever. There’s a reason parents don’t celebrate “babies second Christmas!”. This franchise has been here before. Quite literally. Remember 2001? This is essentially the EXACT same scenario. To add onto that, the Raptors have made it to the second round of the playoffs in the past four seasons (including this one). It’s terrifyingly familiar territory. The two most recent seasons ended in sweeps at the hand of Lebron James and in 2016, they made it to the Conference Finals where they forced a game six against that same Cavs team.
2001: Game 7 Vs. The Sixers
That 2001 series I mentioned was by far the most important series in the history of the Raptors existence until 2015 rolled around. The team just a few years earlier was on the cusp of moving to a destination more attractive from a money standpoint as fans were just not doing their job. They had little to no interest until a man named Vince Carter came along and dragged the team to the second round to face off against Allen Iverson and the Sixers. Despite losing the series, pretty much all of those games at the time could’ve been chalked up as the most important. A) it put both Toronto and VC on the map at a level that had yet to be reached and B) it was the furthest the Raptors had ever been. This iteration of the Raptors doesn’t face the same problems as that 2001 team. They’re an established juggernaut (maybe too strong of a word) in the East that has consistently won around 50 games in the past six seasons and made it to this point on multiple occasions. This year’s game seven just barely trumps ‘01 because of Kawhi’s free agency looming over the outcome.
It’s that 2015-16 playoff run that has the most important games to me. They finally got over the hump of losing in the first round and made found their way further than ever before. That first-round series against the Pacers was kind of like this year in the sense that it was going to determine what the future of this team would look like. If they lose that game seven, there’s almost zero chance the Raptors run it back with the same core. Instead, they jumped into the most successful run the franchise has ever had. DeRozan became “Mr. I am Toronto” by taking a substantial pay cut to keep the team together while Lowry turned into the leader we know today. That was really the first series this version of the Raptors was able to win and that game seven had huge implications on what the roster of this team looks like today. The second round series felt a little less important. However, by the time game seven rolled around, the Raptors garnered some big-time attention. They were going up against a really good Heat team, known for tough fought battles and having one of the best SG’s of all time in the twilight of his prime. Fans and media alike realized that this team might actually be able to get to unchartered territory. With a win, they could make the ECF for the first time in franchise history. Remember how important firsts are? That ECF appearance wasn’t one the Raptors were supposed to win. Despite holding their ground at home, the Raptors lost that series in six to the eventual NBA champions. Down 2-0 to the best player in the world, they have one chance at home to get back into the series and have some sort of hope. After a win in game three, they have a chance to tie the series and really put themselves in a position to win the series and hell, even make the finals. Yet another first.
Everyone wrote 15-16 Raptors team off as a cute story. A team that couldn’t win anything when something real is on the line. That deep playoff run is the main reason as to why they are where they are right now. On the cusp of making another ECF as one of the best teams in the entire league. Without that game seven win vs. Indiana in the first round they wouldn’t have been able to prove themselves the way they have. Without that game seven win vs. Indiana, they’re still a team who has never made it to the ECF. Without that game three win in Toronto vs. Lebron and the Cavs, the Raptors don’t get the respect they deserve when it comes to talk around the NBA.
Whether or not you believe this to be the biggest game, we as Raptors fans deserve it. We deserve the excitement of a game seven with the best player in the playoffs on OUR TEAM. The wait for something bigger and better is finally over and hopefully a win today can flip the momentum in our favour and guide us through the rest of the “biggest games in franchise history”. A loss may mean we move onto the next chapter while a win will keep this story going.