Everyone in the Toronto Raptors setup likes telling people how much they love being doubted.
"We enjoy being counted out," coach Dwane Casey said – again – ahead of Wednesday's Game 5. "I think that fuels us."
If that's true, the Raptors are about to have the two greatest days of their collective lives. If scorn fuels them, they may be breaking atmosphere en route to distant galaxies as you read this.
The Raptors weren't supposed to win Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They also weren't supposed to lose like this. Casey and his assistants will need to review the game tape of a hideous 116-78 defeat for educational purposes. After that, it ought to be burned. No good can come of seeing, thinking or talking about it ever again.
"Physically, they pushed us around and took what they wanted," Casey said.
When the numbers were read aloud to Kyle Lowry, he hid his face in his hand and smirked.
Asked what happened, he said, "I dunno."
How bad was it? The Raptors trailed by 31 at the break – the largest half-time disadvantage in the history of the NBA conference finals. After three quarters, they were losing by 40. And Timofey Mozgov – the fourth horseman of the blowout apocalypse – was on the court. The entire fourth quarter was contested by subs and sub-subs.
The one solace if you are a Raptor fan – Toronto hasn't lost to Cleveland at home this year. The problem? They also haven't won in Ohio, where Game 7 would be played.
Will that change local expectations for Friday's Game 6? It shouldn't. Toronto has already seen this story on a loop, and then seen it turn the other way.
"The series is not over," Casey said, before going deep into the numbers. "It's three-to-two. We've won two. They won three."
The "what do we change" list is pretty simple – everything. They must know the warning signs by now, all of which were in evidence early on Wednesday.
For instance, Kyle Lowry might be spotted trailing after referees like a man in urgent need of directions to a restroom. DeMar DeRozan may be standing off in a corner looking moonily at the "Exit" sign. James Johnson could be on the court (often a bad omen in and of itself) doing something unsmart. Terrence Ross may thus be emboldened to do many unsmart things.
The unsmartness spreads through the roster like a rash. By the end, you feel itchy just watching them.
What made the Raptors performance in Toronto so remarkable was that it was almost entirely mistake-free. Apparently, they had saved up a week's worth of knuckleheadness for one big splurge.
Ahead of the game, Casey – a man of fastidious rhetorical habit – was banging on all of his favourites.
"We're a program that is trying to get where Cleveland has been …" Casey said.
He's said that many times.
He's never said the next bit: "… They were in the finals last year."
If that's the target, it's a new one. As much as any fan, it sounded as though Casey was crossing the mental gulf that separates hope and belief. That may have been hasty.
By contrast, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was beginning to sound agitated. In his opening remark ahead of the game, he said the word "pressure" three times in the space of 10 seconds. (He didn't think there was any. Which makes it odd to say so often.)
You could feel that sudden tension in the room as well.
This series has been played in two of loudest arenas in the league. On Wednesday, the noise level had crossed beyond all the phony scoreboard comparisons to jumbo jets and riding lawnmowers and passed into simply painful. At points, this crowd was hurting you.
I hadn't experienced anything that compares since the debut of the vuvuzela at the 2010 World Cup opener in South Africa. That was a skull-cracking, "this-deafness-is-only-temporary-right?" noise. This was occasionally close to that.
However this turns out, it is hard to recall a North American pro sports contest in which two sets of fans feel they are so integral to their team's success. And in which they actually are.
To begin with, Toronto was ungently reminded why it doesn't like playing here – the place is a gladiator ring and the Raptors historically perform here like Christian martyrs.
They were swamped at the get-go – another reliably bad sign. Casey would call it "poor disposition." This was somewhere between a swoon and a coma.
Cleveland shed its lethargy. Toronto lost its cohesiveness. A couple of early Kevin Love jumpers lit the game plan on fire.
At that distant point, it was also hard to imagine Jonas Valanciunas returning during this series. Casey had been clear that the injured Lithuanian was an emergency switch. He'd only get flipped if things were going sideways. Six minutes into the game, Valanciunas was on the court for the first time since turning his ankle 21/2 weeks ago.
As you might expect, he was somewhat diminished from the player we remember.
Problematically, it wasn't LeBron James doing the damage. It was everyone else. In Toronto, Love and, to a lesser extent, Kyrie Irving, had decided to enjoy a dirty weekend instead of participating in a playoff series. Back in Ohio, they returned to duty.
James scored only four points in the first quarter. Love and Irving combined for 23. Cleveland won the frame 37-19. Toronto didn't score its 37th point until a few minutes into the third.
As per Newton's First Law, an object at rest (i.e. the Raptors) tends to stay at rest. An object in motion (i.e. the Cavaliers) will remain that way until it meets sufficient resistance. There was none.
Around the time they were introducing a professional wrestler named Dolph something-or-other during a TV timeout like he was the Pope, you knew it was over. That was halfway through the second quarter.
Then Casey put Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo on the court together. There are acts of desperation, and there's whatever that was.
Despite the miserable occasion, Toronto has shaken off worse. We are past the point in this series where momentum means much. Home court rules.
Nonetheless, on Thursday all of the NBA will be busily writing off the Raptors and talking up a Cleveland/Oklahoma City final.
From a Toronto perspective, that will be the only good thing to come of Wednesday night.