The Toronto Raptors only lost 1 home game in each of the 3 series in the 2016 NBA playoff run. Against Cleveland, that game turned out to be the deciding Game 6, sending Cleveland to the NBA finals and the Raptors home for good.
The huge margins in the 4 losses to Cleveland were astronomical. But a loss is a loss in the playoffs. The Raptors have a lot to celebrate in this playoff season.
The franchise had never won a Game 7 playoff game; this year, Toronto won a pair of Game 7 contests.
The team hadn't won a playoff series in 15 years. This year, the team won 2 playoff series.
All the "experts" figured the Raptors had zero chance of winning the Cleveland series. The Raptors played really well in Games 3 and 4 at the Air Canada Centre.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were scoring machines. Even in the Game 6 loss, Lowry scored 35 points and DeRozan had 20 points. Bismack Biyombo stepped in for an injured Jonas Valanciunas and performed heroics. Cory Joseph had some beautiful moments off the bench.
Going far in the playoffs helps the team learn in future seasons. The NBA is full of stories along this line. You need these kind of losses to grow. The Raptors learned a lot about themselves in this run.
Canada and the United States were paying attention to Toronto. Jurassic Park. #WeTheNorth. The 6. Drake. Even LeBron James recognized the "unbelievable atmosphere" at the Air Canada Centre. ESPN was forced to come to Toronto and do SportsCenters from the ACC. This was the best run by a Toronto team that plays in the winter since the Maple Leafs reached the Campbell Conference finals against Los Angeles in 1993.
The Raptors won 10 playoff games in 2016. In the previous 8 playoff series, Toronto won 14 playoff games. The team played 20 playoff games; in the previous 4 playoff years, the Raptors played 22 playoff games.
The city got a lot of publicity south of the border. These pictures were from the Game 6 coverage. Beautiful shots of Toronto at night. The scene above from after the Game 3 win. Enthusiastic fans make for great television. And Toronto looked good in that regard.
Toronto Raptors playoff record
TSN and Rogers Sportsnet split the TV duties for the Raptors this postseason. Each outlet carried 10 games, both outlets went 5-5: fitting that the numbers were equal. Rogers Sportsnet would have carried Game 7 if the Raptors had won Friday night.
NBA local feeds apply only in the 1st round in the United States. The fact that Canadians got a local feed throughout the playoffs was rather cool. The ESPN game coverage seemed fine, especially in the Eastern Conference championship. The ESPN coverage outside the game had some odd moments (more on that below), but at least no one at ESPN said Canadians can't catch a basketball.
Stephen A. Smith is a cartoon character. His anti-Toronto antics were much more about the worship of LeBron James than any anti-Canada bias. The Raptors play wasn't good in Cleveland, but Smith's inability for even slight subtlety prevented him for seeing that the Raptors play much better at home.
Smith's apology was insincere in the sense that he doesn't mean it and he won't change. He wasn't sincere in his scorn for the Raptors so why should his apology suddenly be sincere. It's about theatrics, not journalism. In Smith's world, drawing attention, negative or positive, is what matters. This makes him a cartoon character.
Smith's whining about dealing with customs is a growing pattern about TV sports journalists to be "surprised" about this notion of having to go through a process when entering another country. With the recent rise of the Blue Jays and Raptors, some U.S. TV journalists have had to think about Canada for the first time in a generation. NHL announcers and journalists have to laugh since their customs stories are longer, more numerous, and worthy of sympathy.
Listening to Smith complain about going through customs before Game 4 raises a question. Why didn't Smith stay in Toronto for Game 4. ESPN had a presence in Toronto and the NBA is Smith's raison d'etre at ESPN. Smith could have learned more about Toronto, the Raptors, and Canada by staying where the story is instead of whining and being inaccurate back in Bristol, CT.
Smith wasn't the worst ESPN reporter about Canada in the series. That honor (honour) goes to ESPN reporter Brian Windhorst.
Windhorst was on Pardon the Interruption whining about how "Up here in Canada you can't get ESPN/TNT on the television in the hotel. It's extremely frustrating. It's not part of the trade agreements between the countries or something. I have no idea."
He went on to say that no one in Canada would know who PTI hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon are since they don't get the show in Canada.
Windhorst has been working at ESPN since 2010. I have never worked for ESPN. Yet when you watch PTI, Kornheiser says goodbye to Canada at the end of every episode. The goodbye is actually a cue for the cutoff since Canada only carries the primary 30 minutes of the show. Then again, we covered this topic in 2006.
Even if somehow you had no clue, you only need to watch PTI once to see Kornheiser wave a Canadian flag in every episode. Must be some clue that the show is on in Canada.
Windhorst's bio reads more like a LeBron James groupie, so his ability to think beyond Cleveland and Miami may be damaged.
Brian, there is this network in Canada called TSN, which stands for The Sports Network. TSN has a 20% ownership by your company, ESPN, with the rest of the ownership by Bell Media. TSN carries PTI in Canada up to the point where Kornheiser waves the flag. Canadians definitely can know who Kornheiser and Wilbon are, but the two might be able to walk the streets of Toronto and not get mobbed.
As for ESPN/TNT, there is this other sports channel called Rogers Sportsnet. It comes in 4 flavors (flavours): East, Ontario, West, and Pacific. Since you will only go to Toronto in your professional lifetime, you only have to worry about Ontario. There is also Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360. TSN comes in 5 flavors: TSN 1-5. Since you will only be in Toronto, you can think about TSN4 and TSN 2.
ESPN promised a Toronto presence with SportsCenter. What we got before Game 3 was an odd obsession with Tim Hortons references. "Tim Hortons" almost became a code for not knowing about Canada. The male anchor made some reference to Tim Hortons on his way to saying he loves Krispy Kremes. When the segment was tossed back to the studio, the male anchor and female anchor both admitted they had never had Tim Hortons. After a pause of several seconds (really), the male anchor said that he liked donuts.
Clearly, there is no interest in doing the slightest bit of research in Toronto, much less Canada. As for "up here," Toronto is slightly more north than Milwaukee and Chicago but south of Minneapolis and Seattle. There are Tim Hortons in the United States. The Raptors were destined to play better at home because they had a lopsided record in the postseason. This was a team that won a pair of tough Game 7s at the Air Canada Centre.
We could be upset at the ESPN treatment but to be fair, their treatment of sports is shallow, lazy, and uninformed. Canada and Toronto just happened to be the targets this time.
Steve Levy and John Buccigross anchored the late SportsCenter from the floor at the Air Canada Centre. Levy covered the NHL extensively when the network had the sport. Buccigross is into hockey, even coming up with this smiling tweet: "Can't imagine a nicer day in Toronto. Top 10 day. I hope I can find place to watch the hockey game in this hoop city." They weren't about huge praises for the country but they didn't do anything stupid either. In other words, they covered the event in a normal fashion. Some of their ESPN colleagues could have used their help.
photo credits: NBA on ESPN