Many Toronto Raptors fans left the Air Canada Centre after the 100-90 Game 1 loss to the Indiana Pacers muttering something along the lines of: here we go again. For the third straight year, the Raptors began the playoffs at home – and for the third straight year, they gave away home court advantage in Game 1.
This latest loss also stretched Toronto’s playoff losing streak to seven games, dating back to the end of their first round series against the Brooklyn Nets in 2014 and including the four-game sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards last season.
But Raptors All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan joined head coach Dwane Casey in insisting that this was not a case of Toronto being haunted by ghosts of playoffs past.
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“It’s not last year,” Lowry explained. “We didn’t play well. We got some looks we liked and that we know we can make. We’re not panicking. We're good. It’s one game."
“We just played bad,” DeRozan added. “It’s nothing to be worried about. We turned the ball over – 19 turnovers takes away opportunities for us to score. I’m sure I’m not going to shoot 5 for 19 again.”
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Casey took a similar stance – and he refused to buy into the idea that the Raptors’ losing run in the playoffs is weighing on his players.
“I don’t listen to the noise and I hope our guys don’t listen to the noise,” Casey said. “I don’t think the seven game thing [playoff losing streak] had anything to do with it; I think it was the Indiana Pacers. And then the moment of the playoffs. I don’t think it had anything to do with the previous games.
“The key thing is the turnovers. We shot ourselves in the foot – soft passes, not setting solid screens, not running in transition to get open. Those things held us back in terms of breaking our rhythm offensively.
“The team as a whole, I thought, was tight offensively and then frustration carried over to the defensive end. Our guys are prideful and they understand the moment but I haven’t seen us play that tentative on the offensive end all year. I knew we were going to have some [tightness] just with the playoffs being here and everyone’s making such a big thing out of it. That’ll change [for Game 2].
“It’s a long series – I know the percentages, all the numbers and all that bullcrap. We didn’t play to our identity and I know we’ll come back on Monday night and play more to that identity. I think we’ll come out more loose, more relaxed.”
Casey’s substitutions raised eyebrows at times, but he admitted that this is part of the challenge of bringing DeMarre Carroll back into the rotation late in the season after a knee injury.
“I was searching for someone to stop Paul George,” he explained, after surprisingly opting for Terrence Ross over Corey Joseph and Carroll for key possessions late in the game. “I thought our normal rotation again was a little skewed – just with adding the extra player (Carroll). We’ll come up with a rotation for the situation.”
Game 2 on Monday night now feels like a crossroads of sorts for this Raptors team – and for the Casey-Lowry-DeRozan trio, in particular. A win will set everything back on track, with Toronto well-equipped to win on the road in Indiana. But a loss will raise more unwanted questions and leave the Raptors’ season on the brink of disaster.