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Arthur: Heartbreaking loss ends heck of a season
Raptors: Heartbreaking loss ends heck of a season: Arthur | Toronto Star
After everything — after Kevin Garnett’s old hands made the play of the game and the last shot was blocked and Kyle Lowry fell to the floor as that glorious hysterical sound disappeared like an implosion — DeMar DeRozan got down on the floor with his teammate, too.
Lowry was on his back and covering his face with both hands, and DeRozan shouted to Lowry, if anyone was going to take that shot, I’m living and dying with you taking that shot. The sound rose again — applause, some anger, appreciation, disbelief — and DeRozan kept yelling. He needed Lowry to hear him.
“I told him I can live with him putting our season in his hands, because without him we wouldn’t be here,” said DeRozan, cradling his daughter Diar in a quiet moment after Toronto’s 104-103 loss in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets. “He pushed me to another level this season, beyond where I thought I could go. I got the utmost respect for Kyle Lowry.”
If this is how it was going to end, this was the way to end it. It was the first Game 7 to be decided by a single point since Vince Carter missed that shot in Philadelphia, 13 years ago.
The Raptors built this little thing to a howling pinnacle on Sunday. The Air Canada Centre was so loud it hurt, and outside they cut off the line to Maple Leaf Square two hours before the game with 10,000 people in the Square and the lineup still wrapped around two sides of the building. Twenty minutes before the tip, general manager Masai Ujiri went out to thank the crowd.
And the sea of faces roared like he was a rock star and wouldn’t let him talk. They chanted, “F--- BROOKLYN!”, his series-opening statement of defiance, and when he could finally be heard, Masai told them, “You know how I feel.” He still can’t believe what the square felt like.
Before the game, Ujiri said the only thing that scared him was that the two toughest games for a young team to play were Game 1 and Game 7. And so many things went wrong for two hours. Jonas Valanciunas froze, and DeRozan got the flu Saturday night and was rendered passive, and Greivis Vasquez vanished into foul trouble. So many times the building stood again and begged the Raptors to make a play, and the rally would die with a miss or a Nets basket or Terrence Ross, the poor kid. Amir Johnson, bless him, carried this team on one leg until he fouled out.
The game should have been over, but wasn’t quite over. So many things were going wrong. How was it not over? The Raptors were down nine with 3:15 to go.
And Lowry pulled them back one more time, and Patrick Patterson played without fear, and Ross, who finally looked like a basketball player again, stole an inbounds pass that Shaun Livingston tried to throw over the former slam dunk champion because there was nowhere else to go. The Raptors had a chance. This team never quit.
These two teams played 11 games this season, and with 6.2 seconds left in the 11th game they had scored the exact same number of points. And it came down to Lowry with the ball, six seconds, down one, season in his hands. If you had said that was the deal when this thing started, would you have taken it?
“Every day,” said Patterson.
But Garnett slipped his hand in like a dagger, and Patterson took a step towards the loose ball when Garnett jarred it free, because that’s what you do. You see a loose ball, you go get it. Lowry got it and leaned forward, but Patterson’s step had freed Paul Pierce to block the shot instead of being bulled into the front row. Garnett admitted that he had beaten himself up over and over after the playoff failures in his career, and said this moment was a culmination of all of that.
“One shot, one free throw, an offensive rebound here or there, that close,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “And that’s what I told the team. We were right there.”
“This was a very difficult series,” said Garnett. “It tested everybody’s will here.”
It tested everybody’s will, all right, before and after. Lowry was still sitting at his locker in full uniform 45 minutes after the game, staring into space. He had to go to the podium and he called his 2-year-old son, Karter, to come with him. Karter was playing with a marker and a whiteboard, and he didn’t want to go. “We’ll come right back,” said his father, then more softly, “We’ll come right back. I promise.” Lowry picked up his son, and he carried him.
And when Lowry left the podium Pierce was there in street clothes, and he hugged Lowry and told him, “Great series. Y’all the future. You got a nice duo here. You’re a beast.” Nets coach Jason Kidd met Lowry a little later and said, “Young fellah: Keep working.”
This was about all anybody could ask for. This band of refugees and strivers found something and built it this season. Just 54,000 people watched them on TV on opening night at the beginning of the season, and Sunday they were the show. This team was never going to win a title. Ujiri needs better players to build something bigger than this. There are hard decisions ahead.
But this group was tough, boy. And they never quit.
“’Cause we’re all we’ve got,” said Patterson. “We’re all we have. Everybody: the country, the city, the fans, everyone in the organization and this team, our families, they’re the only ones who believed in this team.”
“We had a hell of a fight, man,” said DeRozan. “Man, we’re gonna fight to our last breath.”
The lesson here is that if you give this city a basketball team worth admiring and loving and cheering, then Toronto will make such a noise for them. Garnett, who has been in the league for almost 20 years, said, “I want to give a shout-out to Toronto the city. This has got to be one of the best places, the best atmospheres I have played in in a long time. Paul and I were talking about different places we’ve played, and the passion, but this place was rocking.” Asked to describe the atmosphere, Patterson just said, “Magical.”