As it ended, the Brooklyn Nets swarmed the Air Canada Centre court as if they owned it. To get there, they had to trample Kyle Lowry, who was stretched out on the ground with his head in his hands.
The wall of sound that had poured down on the court like a physical force all afternoon cut out. As if someone had pulled a plug.
This is how the most unexpected season in Canadian basketball history ends – in six seconds, one thwarted run to the bucket and an array of emotions so complex they may require therapy to sort out.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this – in either the macro or micro sense.
Five months ago, this Raptors team was being retrofitted to fail. That was the goal. Management had begun to disassemble it in the hopes of starting over. Once they traded Rudy Gay, they had blown their tanks and turned organizationally toward the floor of the NBA standings.
It would be wrong to call what followed a resurgence. That implies it had some precedent. This was a unique occurrence, proof that vital and ineffable quality in team sports – chemistry – actually does exist.
Tasked with stumbling, the Raptors began to rise. That slow, consistent momentum carried them to Game 7 against the Nets and the scenes of Sunday afternoon.
Four hours before tipoff, hundreds were already lined up to get into Maple Leaf Square – “Jurassic Park” – outside the arena.
A photo began spreading on social media of coach Dwane Casey riding the subway to the game. He’d started out in his car, gotten stuck in a traffic snarl, given up and returned home to try again The Better Way.
“I recommend it to everybody,” Mr. Casey said brightly beforehand. “Just not on Game 7.”
Great games come down to a collection of moments. That’s how war stories are created. Game 7 in Toronto will be remembered in nothing but those sorts of snapshots.
In the pre-game, Nets legend Paul Pierce walked onto the court to take a few lazy shots. The Raptors chief instigator – aide-de-camp and former player Jamaal Magloire – began abusing him in the most gleeful, personal terms.
Mr. Pierce smiled and shot back, “What’d you ever do anyway? Nothing.” That moment would echo like a gong later.
The meat of the game hardly mattered. For three quarters, the Raptors were overawed by the physicality of their opponents and the unfamiliar majesty of the occasion. The fervency of the crowd seemed to work against them.
Eight-word game story up until the final minutes: The Raptors missed shots. The Nets made them.
The game sped by, until it reached 22 seconds remaining. Then everything slowed. Having trailed by twelve points, the Raptors were now within two. Brooklyn’s Deron Williams stood in to take a pair of free throws. He missed the first.
How to describe the feeling in the room at that point? You need to reach into philosophy. We’d begun sliding around on the Utilitarians’ calculus of pleasure and pain. That theory holds, in part, that you are capable of feeling joy proportional to your experience of suffering.
Those in the crowd had been testing the limits of the latter all afternoon. Now they were edging into resultant extremes of the former.
Mr. Williams’s miss produced a sound that reached beyond deafening and into elemental. I’ve been in some loud places. That felt like putting on a flame-retardant suit and climbing inside a jet engine.
Pleasure would peak in the moment when Terrence Ross – the would-be goat of this series, turned ram – inexplicably intercepted an inbounds and put Toronto in a position to win.
Asked afterward for his key memory of the game, Mr. Casey would point to his view of Mr. Lowry from down court, as the team’s talisman waded into a thicket of Nets’ big men trying to ferret out the winning bucket. He called it “the meat grinder.” That’s what it must’ve looked like from behind.
At its end, Mr. Pierce was waiting to slap the Raptors’ season into non-existence.
Then the shutter began opening and closing. Mr. Lowry down on the floor. DeMar DeRozan crouched over him, like a lover, whispering in his ear. Mr. Pierce, returning for a radio interview at courtside, blowing kisses to an enraged crowd. As he left, he threw his headband into the stands. Someone threw it back.
Forty-five minutes later, Mr. Lowry was sitting in front of his locker in full uniform, lost in thought. Finally, it was time for him to face questions at his post-game presser. He rose unsteadily. Mr. Lowry is a free agent in two months’ time.
He called to his two-year-old son, Karter, to come along. Karter was happily doodling on a grease board, and chose not to hear him.
“C’mon,” Mr. Lowry said, patiently. Karter ignored him. He said it again. And again. And again. Each time, it sounded less urgent and more weary.
“C’mon,” Mr. Lowry said with finality. “It’s time to go.”
Having lived this journey with them, a nation of supporters wishes it were otherwise.Report Typo/Error
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