How many times in your life have you had one of those, “Wait. What is happening?” moments?
We’re talking about a good one. An “I’m watching this and I still can’t believe it” moment.
If you’re lucky, maybe a dozen in a lifetime. The Toronto Raptors gave you one on Friday night. They took a quarter century’s worth of learned behaviour about how a Canadian team is supposed to carry itself when it matters and flipped it upside-down.
For the first time in a generation, a team this whole country is rooting for won a game they should have lost, at the absolute crucial moment. In so doing, the Raptors put themselves one win from an NBA championship.
Toronto’s Game 4 victory finished in a romp, 105-92. It was the greatest comeback in Toronto sports history.
The Raptors were playing an admittedly diminished Golden State team. But it’s still Golden State. Steph Curry played (and was, by his own impossibly high standard, terrible). Klay Thompson played (and was injured). Combined, the two of them scored 55, a pretty decent number.
Kawhi Leonard scored 14 points in the first quarter. Also, a decent number.
Every other player on the Raptors scored three. Combined.
That’s not championship basketball. It’s de-championship basketball. That’s whatever you play if you want your team to not only lose, but be relegated and then go bankrupt.
There were points in the first half of Friday’s game where, had they been playing without a working scoreboard and someone had asked you, “How far are the Raptors behind?” you’d have said, “I dunno. Thirty?”
That’s how bad they were, offensively at least. But in that special way special basketball teams have, they roped themselves to Golden State’s bumper and got dragged along. The biggest Warriors’ lead was 11.
At the half, Toronto was down by four. Were I from anywhere but Toronto, I’d be signing a petition asking for a recount of that score.
Because that number made no sense. The Raptors should have been crushed on Friday night. That was the way the game was supposed to play out.
In the third quarter, Toronto ran amok. Golden State caved in like a collapsing building.
Friday night’s contest may have been the last game the Warriors ever play in Oakland. The team is moving on up next year to San Francisco, where they will soon be, like some of their owners, good guys who no longer get the benefit of the doubt. It could have been an amicable parting.
Instead, the Warriors played like they want to run out of town, rather than be escorted.
Toronto outscored Golden State by 16 points in the third quarter. It was a quarter for the ages, and should be feted as the greatest in Toronto history. Everyone who took part – particularly Leonard and his 17 points – deserves a statue.
Don’t put those statues in Toronto. Maybe put them in Ottawa. Because it was a national moment. That was the point at which we all stopped being lovable losers, and instead became the sports people who lay a whipping on those lovable types.
One game can shift a bunch of narratives. In that third quarter, the Golden State Warriors – our idea of them, anyway – died. The Toronto Raptors, for as long as they can keep this line-up together, became the best team in the NBA. An entire sports league shuddered. Things have changed now.
In future, whenever they say, “Golden State was hurt and desperate,” that’s when you say, “So what?” Sports is about overcoming. It’s not about missing the exam and then getting your GP to write you a note.
Great teams show up. Everyone else has a great explanation for why they didn’t.
Golden State was a great team, but that’s over now. The Raptors have begun chiseling the tombstone of the Warriors’ golden generation: 2015-19 – Best Ever; Succumbed to the Inevitability of Time, Injury and Apathy.
I fully realize this isn’t over yet. But it’s over. A team has gone up 3-1 in a Finals 34 times in NBA history. That team has won 33 of those. The exception was LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers against this same Warriors squad.
James & Co. weren’t playing for anything but pride. The Warriors already have their pride. They’re playing for a legacy. Since their legacy is already secured, that’s a de-motivator.
Right now, the Warriors are playing for golf season. They’re playing for the Tahitian vacation they’ve put off for eight months.
They’ve lost. They’ll want to get out of here as soon as possible. In all likelihood, very early on Tuesday morning after losing to the Raptors in Toronto very late on Monday night.
What a bizarre thing to write. Nobody in this country has had the chance to be genuinely triumphal since 1993, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Blue Jays.
In the interim, we gave up. We still watched the games, but the realists among us – so, all of us – never expected any of our teams to pull the surprise. Other teams, American teams, did that.
Our teams teased you with potential, or gave up, or blew it in the end. Aside from the Olympics, pre-emptive surrender became the Canadian sporting way. After a while, you get used to it. “Tried hard” becomes “good enough,” and “good enough” becomes “next year!”
There are nine Canadian teams in the four major leagues – seven in the NHL; one in MLB; one in the NBA; none in the NFL. Given the total number, it isn’t much. Maybe that’s part of why we put up with this. Who were we to complain? We adapted ourselves to the role of happy participant.
Of those nine, the least likely to rebel was the Raptors. Canada? Winning an NBA title? I mean, come on.
But the Raptors are about to. They’re about to take a whole bunch of things we thought we knew and turn them from “What happened?” moments to “Where were you when it did?” moments.