Fresh off guiding the Toronto Raptors to their first playoff series win since 2001, head coach Dwane Casey credited the doubters with a big assist.
Throughout the series, the Raptors dealt with speculation over the future direction of the franchise, specifically whether Casey would remain at the helm if Toronto slid out of the playoffs at the first hurdle again and whether all-star DeMar DeRozan would be offered a new big-money contract this off-season.
Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri seemed to answer part of that conundrum when he made a cameo appearance at Casey’s post-game press conference to applaud his head coach and give him a quick kiss on the head.
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“First off all, I want to see everybody's story that they wrote before the game,” Casey told the media post-game. “I think everybody wrote the Raptors off and gave us up for dead.
"I read some of the stuff – not only here but around the country about how Indiana was going to win. I love that because I think our guys used that as motivation and as fuel to fight and scrap.
"Hopefully that’s the monkey off their back and everyone continues to doubt us.”
A SIGH OF RELIEF
Casey also suggested that the first round series win would remove some of the pressure on his players and allow them to play with more freedom when their second round series against the Miami Heat begins on Tuesday night.
“[Now we can] play freer, just play basketball and not worry about history and who’s going to be here next year and who’s not,” he explained. “Believe me, players have families and that stuff affects families.
“It wasn’t pretty [in game seven] but our defense carried us down the stretch. The number one thing – and I said this at the start of the series – was going to be taking care of the ball. We only had eight turnovers so we won that battle. They had 13. And our crowd carried us – that’s why we earn home court advantage.”
DeRozan fought off the attention of Indiana’s Paul George and led the way for Toronto with 30 points. Casey loved what he saw.
“He got his swagger back – coming off pindowns, initiating contact,” he said. “He had a heck of block in transition which was huge. He was playing with confidence – not thinking, just being decisive.
"That’s the way he has to play – that’s how he’s played all year. He and Kyle are the types of players who can ignite the game for us.”