Last night was one of the few down moments on the season for me. After all, 2015-16 has been my favourite as a Raptors’ fan, and I would have my doubts about anyone who said differently.
The Raptors were a fun (albeit often aesthetically unpleasing), resilient basketball team that found a way to beat almost every team that came into their path (thanks, Golden state…). They hosted the All Star game and had two of their own play in it. They won a franchise record 56 games, scorching last season’s record of 49 wins.
Toronto won the Atlantic Division for the third straight year and finished second in the Eastern Conference for the first time ever, finishing only one game behind the Cavaliers for the top spot…just one.
All of that despite being relatively overlooked at the start of the season. Many experts were predicting the Raptors wouldn’t even crack the playoffs, and those who were routinely placed teams like Boston, Washington, and Chicago ahead of them.
We had the opportunity to watch a Raptors team take utmost pride in representing the city of Toronto, and the nation of Canada. They spoke at length about the fans, about changing the image that the Raptors have far too long had across the NBA, and even of the enjoyment they received from hearing the Canadian anthem itself.
So last night wasn’t disappointing for me. Far from it. It was the first time I’ve ever walked away at the end of a Raptors season and felt satisfied. Our team showed they belonged in the club of contenders, and still have more room to grow as an organization.
How satisfying does that feel? I’m at a loss for words as I type this. The end of most seasons feel like writing an obituary for a dearly loved, but deeply frustrating friend. This couldn’t be further from that.
Last night was a celebration. To watch an arena full of people, and entire city blocks of fans outside, serenading a team that had just been eliminated in a 26 point defeat. Fans remained in the building after the game, loudly chanting “Let’s Go Raptors”, and showing their thanks for a team that had given them so much to celebrate over the last 102 games.
Heck, the Raptors played 102 games! Think about that for a second. The Raptors played over 100 games and won 64.7 percent of the times they look the floor this season. 64.7 percent!
Kyle Lowry was deservedly named to an All NBA team (although it should have been second team, not third), and DeMar DeRozan moved further up the Raptors all time record book in games played (only 21 games behind Morris Peterson) and scoring (second only to Chris Bosh, a record he could pass in 2-3 years if he returns).
Jonas Valanciunas showed massive strides throughout the year at both ends of the floor, and showed in the playoffs he can be a dominant player in the post in both rebounding and scoring.
Norman Powell stole our hearts and was a big reason why the Raptors overcame poor play from their stars to defeat Indiana in the first round. Not even an hour after the game and he was already talking about getting back into the gym to work on his game right away, and wanting to go to summer league since not winning it last summer has stuck with him.
We as fans even also got to revel in every loss by the Nuggets and Knicks, as we looked forward to a potential top 10 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Eastern Conference finals and the opportunity to select at 9th overall this summer…good times!
I’m not a very emotional person, but I am going to miss this season. I am going to miss following this group day-to-day. I am going to look back and remember the (likely) one magical season that Bismack Biyombo came to Toronto. I am going to remember watching Norm slowly cement his position as a starter in round one and a potential key building block for the future. I am going to remember Masai Ujiri, because this season showed again how much of a basketball genius he is. I am going to remember watching Dwane Casey fight for his players on every possession. I’ll remember Cory Joseph coming back to Toronto and becoming, as a Canadian, a key contributor and a badass back-up point guard who took pride in putting on a Raptors jersey.
I won’t forget any of it.
Game 6 ended in a 26 point blowout, with the Raptors season ending with it, and all I feel is thankful for the ride that we just had.
Thank you, Raptors.
Fans in the Square chant “Thank you, @Raptors” as #Game6 of the #ECF ends.
Thank YOU, fans. #RTZ #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/YndPA9EaMM
— MLSE PR (@MLSEPR) May 28, 2016
Follow @raptorsrepublicFollow @m_shantz2015-16 Raptors…What a Ride It Was originated on Raptors Republic: ESPN TrueHoop Network Blog.