The Toronto Raptors’ playoff struggles have become something of a meme over the last few years. April after April, the hype would build, and they would promptly get stomped, walked over, and generally embarrassed by LeBron James. This year, though, things are different. And it’s not just because LeBron is currently sipping wine in Los Angeles.
It looked like everything would unfold the same way after they lost on a buzzer-beater to D.J. Augustin, of all people, in Game 1 vs. the Magic. But after that game, it appeared the team collectively decided that enough was enough. Toronto would be known as playoff chokers no longer. The next three games weren’t even close, and they’ll be moving on to the second round after a dominant Game 5, where Philadelphia will be waiting.
The most obvious difference is the personnel; you don’t need to be a basketball savant to understand that replacing DeMar DeRozan with Kawhi Leonard would improve the team, and Leonard is playing like a superstar after he was carefully managed all throughout the regular season. The emergence of Pascal Siakam as a legitimate offensive threat and impact defender helps, too. The biggest difference, though, lies in their altered mindset. Nothing embodies that change more than the play of Kyle Lowry.
“Playoff Lowry” has become synonymous with Toronto’s playoff failures. He’s failed to make any sort of impact when their season was on the line over the last few seasons, for reasons no one can decipher. It seemed that it was happening again after he scored precisely zero points in their Game 1 loss. Lowry, like the rest of the Raptors, decided enough was enough, and came out firing in Game 2 and didn’t let up for the rest of the series. He scored the first nine points in their closeout game in Toronto, scored 22 in Game 2 and posted a double-double in Game 3. He, like everyone else in the city of Toronto, was tired of it all.
Their playoff demons aren’t completely exercised; the Magic aren’t exactly top-line opponents, and their next matchup will truly show if they’ve left their previous troubles behind them. But for the first time in years, there isn’t an unspoken asterisk when talking about Toronto’s playoff hopes, no silent “but” lingering on everyone’s lips. The Raptors are here to make the Finals.