For many American sporting enthusiasts, Tuesday was a first opportunity to consider the Toronto Raptors as a functioning basketball team rather than an ongoing punchline. Well, that was the idea.
The party line is that Toronto doesn't really care what anyone thinks of them. Not the players or the executives and most certainly not the people. We're all totally over America.
Wait. What? Did America just say something about us or … no, no, never mind. We're cool. We're … just let us know if they did. Not that we're keeping track or anything.
On that note, you will probably have heard by now about an out-of-date CBSSports.com NBA championship poll that seemed to list the Raptors as "Other."
You will also have heard about the #WeTheOther hashtag sprung early Tuesday from Toronto's thriving inferiority complex.
And doubtless you know all about Mayor John Tory's tongue-in-cheek and not-at-all-thin-skinned response to said poll on official letterhead. In true Napoleonic style, it noted that Toronto is "North America's 4th largest city" and that a Canadian invented basketball.
Or perhaps you haven't heard any of this wherever you are? If so, can I come and stay with you for a few days? It sounds wonderful.
All in all, it was not an imperious debut for Toronto's supporters on the NBA's main stage. Following the same malfunctioning motivational GPS, the team trailed its fans into Lake Erie.
Toronto was comprehensively defeated in its first game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, 115-84. If that doesn't sound close, it's because it wasn't.
After the Raptors delightful surprise in these playoffs (i.e. winning for a change), one comes to Cleveland expecting a similar feel. You forget that this town has felt on the edge of something huge, on-and-off, for a decade.
You want T-shirts? They got T-shirts. And towels. And (possibly mind-control-based) glowing wristbands. And six fire cannons. And explosions. Lots of them.
There is enough bang-bang in Cleveland's pre-game to give you arena-specific PTSD.
The atmo – at least equal to Air Canada Centre's remarkable noise output – seemed to put some jump into the often sleepy Raptors' starts.
Toronto stormed out, taking brief advantage of the Cavaliers lack of synch after a nine-day layoff. Occasional team goat DeMar DeRozan hit his first five shots. At one early point, the Raptors were shooting 70 per cent – which is about as sustainable in NBA terms as a vineyard built on a salt flat. Torrid was not the word.
Yet they were still losing. Cleveland's ball movement repeatedly caught them flat-footed on the defensive end. At one point, Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving cunningly eluded Kyle Lowry by bouncing the ball on the floor and walking past him. As an emergency measure, seldom-used hardman James Johnson was inserted. Johnson had been effective in cooling off Miami. Against the Cavaliers lineup, it was like shovelling ice cubes into a smelting furnace.
At the end of the first quarter, the Raptors had scored 28 points – one off their best start of this postseason – and were still losing by five.
Then Cleveland began to rain in threes.
Rather than LeBron James, that is the real threat of the Cavs offence. They entered the game shooting better from beyond the arc (46.2 per cent) than within it during this postseason. That should also be unsustainable. When it's not, James is still circling just below the water's edge.
A couple of quick threes to start the second quarter yanked all ballast away from the suddenly listing Raptors. Down 11, they called a timeout. As the second-unit trudged off the court, Lowry came off the bench to give them a series of 'calmly, calmly' hand gestures.
He's been doing that regularly for the last month. It has never seemed less convincing. This was the time to begin panicking.
When James gathered a loose ball in the corner, turned DeMarre Carroll on his hip and slid unchallenged to the basket, you already knew it. The crowd knew it, too.
This wasn't going to be a game of runs. There wasn't going to come down to the final possession. With only 17 of 48 minutes played, it was already over.
The insult grew larger when Kevin Love tried to knock Patrick Patterson out with a flailing elbow in the second half. At moments, it seemed to be drifting into line-brawl territory. We may get there very soon.
While it's fun to get pretend-outraged at the way the Raptors are ignored by the NBA proper and the United States generally, this is the real challenge now. To this point in the playoffs, Toronto has functionally played against itself.
The encounters with Indiana and Miami looked close only because the Raptors drifted in and out of focus. The real battle was internal. Could Lowry get his head straight? Would DeRozan get it together? Would someone step in if neither could? To varying degrees, all those things happened.
We're off the therapist's couch now. This is a straight fight, and an unfair one. The Cavaliers are a lot better than the Raptors. Position by position. And it shows.
Toronto didn't play poorly on Tuesday. All in all, the Raptors played averagely. They could've folded completely, and didn't.
But, evidently, their average is not even close to good enough to beat Cleveland.
Perhaps Toronto's shrill reaction to a non-existent U.S. cabal arrayed against Raptor interests can ease off now. If this city wants to seem above it – whatever "it" is – then the simplest solution is to simply do that.
Given the way Tuesday went, do you really want to be the guy complaining that someone doesn't think the Raptors can win a title? Right now, you'd get pretty good odds they won't win another game.
As a man of letters once said about conspiracies of silence (especially ones with some merit), you're best advised to join them.