After being annihilated in the first game of the Eastern Conference final, the Toronto Raptors had at least figured out what went wrong against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"They played at a higher pace than we expected. They played better. And our game plan probably wasn't well executed," Bismack Biyombo said Wednesday.
So, in non-technical terms – everything.
A day later, the Raptors seemed neither downbeat nor hopeful. There was the usual flatness to their postdefeat responses. They've had a lot of time during these playoffs to memorize them – "Lackadaisical"; "Every game is different"; "Better effort next time"; "We'll be ready."
More often than not, they have been. Helpfully, there is usually one glaring and easily solved problem to cling to. Once again on Tuesday, it was free throws. Neither Kyle Lowry nor DeMar DeRozan went to the line once in that game. It was the first time in 298 games played together that had happened.
"That's an incredible number," coach Dwane Casey said. "I'm not very good at math, but that's almost mathematically impossible."
The key word in that sentence being "almost." That's what Cleveland does to you – push you up to and beyond what you thought your "almosts" were. Toronto lost by 31 – a record playoff margin for the Cavaliers. No amount of free throws would've changed the result.
You don't need numbers to figure out what happened to the Raptors. You need functioning eyes.
This wasn't two professional teams, and the relative parity that suggests. It was an older and younger brother. Cleveland put its hand on Toronto's forehead and let the Raptors swing freely for 10 minutes at the beginning. Having never once connected, Toronto got all tuckered out. That's when the beating began.
"Not to make excuses, I think fatigue kicked in," DeMarre Carroll said. Which, even though it's demonstrably true, is a funny way to not make an excuse.
Once in a while, players want to come out and say, "We got our asses absolutely handed to us." But they will only say it when they think it's not going to happen the next time. Notably, no one said that Wednesday.
Though there were plenty of pro forma mentions of Cleveland's quality, they were perfunctory. To go further would seem too much like defeatism.
Many were in a rush to praise LeBron James – the human equivalent of gently petting someone in the hope it might put him to sleep.
"He's a physical beast," Carroll said. "He's the best player. He's the best player. I feel he's the best player."
But is he the best player?
And is this the kind of hagiography you want coming out of the mouth of the guy who was supposed to be containing him?
All that said, here's the landscape before Thursday's Game 2:
Toronto is tired; Cleveland is not. That won't change.
Toronto is good; Cleveland is better. That won't change, either.
Toronto could be vastly improved by the return of Jonas Valanciunas. Yesterday, the injured centre (ankle) attended practice wearing workout gear, but still limping and in discomfort.
"I saw him walking, so that was positive," general manager Masai Ujiri said, which isn't all that positive. Let's hope everyone acknowledges that it would be monumentally unwise to risk Valanciunas in this lost cause.
Biggest difference of all – Toronto does not have James. Cleveland does. We'd have to check the collective agreement, but a trade in the next 12 or so hours seems unlikely.
And so the key takeaway from Game 1 is that the Raptors have lost this series.
While miracles do happen, you'd be hard pressed to quote the basketball section in any holy book. Once in a while, a team on a hellacious hot streak can overcome a better squad purely on the basis of momentum.
That isn't the case here. The Raptors came into this flat. They were beaten a lot flatter. Soon, they will be two-dimensional.
The question is no longer "Will they lose?", if it ever was. It's "Exactly how badly do they want to lose?" These playoffs have been a success not just because Toronto has won twice (though that's most of it), but also because of how they've done it.
Saddled since forever with the well-earned reputation of a team that folds when any amount of pressure is applied, they were suddenly resilient. Not January- or Feburary-resilient, but resilient when it actually counted.
On Tuesday, Ujiri referenced the Game 7 win over Miami. He wasn't talking about the win per se, but the manner in which it was done – "a blowout."
The old Raptors would've collapsed. The Raptors of two years ago might've pulled it out on a freaky, clock-at-zero, ill-advised iso-hero shot. The Raptors of right now got Miami on the ground at the start and did not take a foot off their neck for 48 minutes.
The only people more surprised than Toronto's long-time fans was every other human who has ever watched 10 seconds of NBA basketball. The Raptors? Tough-minded? Who knew?
It's time to apply that same quality in a doomed effort. If they must leave these playoffs – and they must – better not to do it by crooked numbers.
The law of averages suggests that Cleveland is due at least one bad night. Take advantage of that. Winning a single game would at least make this thing respectable. Winning two might convince real players that this team is only one piece away from going from a contender to a Contender.
Do not go the Washington route of last year – giving in once you realize you can't win. Don't capitulate.
The Raptors may not be good enough to beat the Cavaliers, but they are good enough to lose well. That could have real value spinning out well beyond the next few weeks. And given where they've got, there is absolutely no shame in it.
I'd love to end this with a "… if they can do that, then who knows?" But we all know.